While we use social media everyday, it isn’t often that we ask fundamental questions about what it is for, or what function it serves in the lives of our communities. What is it for? It connects us to the lives of other people through stories and images. People and businesses use it to sell products and promote ideas. And we use social media to try to do a little bit of good.
Recently, there have been a few examples of social media advocacy that show just how great a tool social media can be for “doing good.” As a purpose-driven organization, you should be using social media to connect with your stakeholders, but you might also use it in your advocacy work.
Let’s Tell America It’s Great
In the last few days, The Garden Collective, a creative agency in Toronto, put together an online campaign to address the tough election cycle in the U.S. The campaign riffs on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and is called “Let’s Tell America It’s Great.”
“The campaign encourages Canadians to send videos of themselves telling Americans why they’re already great,” according to Alan Jude Ryland at Second Nexus.
The video, created with webcams and smart phones, shows more than two-dozen Canadians giving warm testimonials to the American spirit. Other Canadians took to Twitter using the hashtag #TellAmericaItsGreat to offer moral support. There’s a website where the public can watch the videos already made or upload their own video.
The campaign has gone viral and been picked up by the New York Times and other news sources. The campaign’s success suggests that it was indeed a “much-needed virtual hug this election season,” as it was described by Kimberly Yam in the Huffington Post.
“Every morning we’d come together at work and there would inevitably be a discussion about another negative piece of news about the election,” Shari Walczak, a founder of The Garden Collective, told the New York Times. “We look at it through a Canadian lens, but all of us have friends, family and colleagues who live in America. We realized they’re immersed in it day in and day out and how awful that must feel.”
The campaign isn’t meant to sell anything (though it does increase the prestige of the agency that created it); instead it addresses a collective emotional state, one of worry and fatigue. It brings a little levity and lightness to the public sphere that has been rather fraught. It has been a successful campaign because it addresses a need among its audience.
Campaign to Stop EpiPen Price Gouging
When Mellini Kantayya, an actress in Brooklyn, learned that the cost of EpiPens had increased by more than 500 percent, she decided to create an online petition to advocate for greater affordability for the life-saving allergy medication.
She used Petition2Congress.com, a service that collects signatures and then sends them to designated lawmakers, and created the petition “Stop the EpiPen Price Gouging.” She then shared a link to the petition with her 836 Facebook friends.
“What happened next is a lesson in the power of social media to help create a groundswell, particularly among a group as committed and motivated as the parents of children with food allergies, who must often buy multiple pens for home, school and day care. In just 45 days, Ms. Kantayya’s petition grew from a few dozen signatures to more than 80,000 people who sent more than 121,000 letters to Congress,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times.
The founder of AllergyKids.com, Robyn O’Brien, shared her concerns about the price of EpiPens with her 165,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. Soon people were posting photographs of receipts that showed the out-of-pocket costs of EpiPens in different states. O’Brien coined the hashtag #EpiGate and more media outlets began to cover the price increase.
Soon public officials, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, called on the drug company Mylan to lower EpiPen prices. A Senator from Minnesota called for both a Judiciary Committee inquiry into the pricing and an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
Mylan eventually announced that the company would expand its coupon and patient assistance programs to help patients who were facing higher out-of-pocket costs.
“What’s so unusual about the pricing furor is that it has been orchestrated almost solely by parents and family members of people who use EpiPens,” writes Parker-Pope.
Advocacy groups seem to have missed an opportunity here (though Parker-Pope suggests that some patient advocacy have financial ties to Mylan and others have made less public complaints to the drug company about pricing).
Why was the campaign so successful? It used already existing networks of people who had shared values and concerns—parents of children with allergies mostly—to amplify a message about a shared problem.
Sharing Stories of Sexual Assault on Twitter
After the release of the Billy Bush and Donald Trump video, writer and Twitter celebrity Kelly Oxford asked a question and shared a short anecdote on Twitter. “Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘p****’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”
She didn’t expect more than a handful of responses, but by the next morning she was getting about 50 responses per minute.
“A hashtag had materialized: ‘#notokay.’ The Twitter posts continued to pour in through the weekend. And by Monday afternoon, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited Ms. Oxford’s Twitter page,” writes Jonathan Mahler in the New York Times. “A social media movement was born as multitudes of women came forward to share their stories. The result has been a kind of collective, nationwide purge of painful, often long-buried memories.”
Actress Amber Tamblyn shared her story on Instagram. The story was picked up by the New York Times, NPR, New York Daily News, NBC, CBS, The Guardian, Vogue, Daily Mail, and New York Magazine, among others. It trended on Facebook.
“If you scroll through the stream of tweets, one thing becomes clear. This is not just a political reaction. It's a collective unburdening,” according to an article on NPR.
Why is the movement successful? It brings to light stories that often go untold, empowers victims not to feel ashamed, and reveals that sexual assault is very common. (The hashtag has been trolled, but the overall feeling of the Twitter storm is one of empowerment and mutual support.)
Another reason Kelly Oxford’s question became a big deal is because it asked for participation. Indeed it asked people to share very personal, often secret, stories. That kind of sharing is a powerful act, for both reader and writer.
What’s the Lesson for Us?
These three campaigns were perfectly timed to answer a public need. (To learn more about how to time your messaging perfectly, check out my blog post about newsjacking.) They didn’t try to sell anything except an idea. They used established communities when they could and multiple platforms when appropriate. They asked for participation. Then they each made the jump from social media phenomenon to news story.
As a purpose-driven organization, you know that at the core of your work is an important idea, an idea that can make the world a better place. Engage with that idea directly on social media. And ask your audience to do that same.