Social Media Is A Key Channel For Raising Awareness…But Make Sure It’s Authentic.

Social media platforms are no strangers to campaigns which aim to raise awareness of a cause, product or person. The viral effect that they can activate, and the speed at which information is shared, determines the way in which a campaign is received by social audiences and shapes its success or, in some cases, failure as a result of cynical scrutiny.

This month has seen a number of politically challenging campaigns trending on Twitter and featuring in a huge amount of blog posts. From International Women’s Day to the aptly named ‘Pink Slime’ in school dinners, socially media users actively shared and participated in matters which would undoubtedly not have gained as much recognition or publicity in the days before social networking.

Glenda Stone, founder of www.internationalwomensday.com stated that “Activity on International Women’s Day has skyrocketed over the last five years. This is due to the rise of social media…Our [Twitter] community with around 10,000 followers is phenomenal for sharing videos, information and news as it happens. Offline large scale women’s rallies have become even larger through the use of social media.”

However, for one campaign in particular, KONY 2012, the social commentary took a variety of twists and turns, and what started as a video viral and twitter movement #STOPKONY to raise awareness of accused war criminal Joseph Kony, become a public debate on the legitimacy of the charity behind it, Invisible Children.

It took only 6 days for the 30 minute documentary, seeking to arrest LRA leader Joseph Kony, to rack up 100 million views, making it the most viral video of all time according to researcher Visible Measures. Yet the campaign seems to have raised more awareness of the behaviour of its creator Jason Russell and the questionable antics and financial activity of Invisible Children. As a result of this, KONY 2012 highlights the social media snowball effect and is representative of both the positives and negatives of using social media for activism…especially when your aim is to persuade your audience into buying supporter packs.

However, Kony also demonstrates the need for complete authenticity when social media platforms are used to raise awareness of a cause. The motivation behind the video came into serious question when the mass of other material, and digital information, surrounding Invisible Children resurfaced, leading to public criticism of the campaign. Charlie Brooker recently analysed the charity behind the viral phenomenon of the year during his slot on 10 o’clock Live – to say it portrayed Invisible Children in a negative light is an understatement.

There are a host of lessons that can be taken from KONY2012;

  • Be genuine and represent your brand honestly
  • Have an objective and ensure there’s a legitimate purpose behind your promotion
  • Do your research and understand your market
  • Consider the potential impact of everything you make public through digital and social channels
  • Prepare yourself for both positive and negative feedback, and remember to respond to both!

When authenticity and motivation aren’t being questioned, the support that can be gained through social media channels shouldn’t be underestimated. Despite retweets, hashtags, shares and likes of activist subject matter being criticised by some as lazy ‘Slactivism’, the impact of such support is undeniable. For example, take the recent backlash and support against SOPA – the social support through networks and website strikes undoubtedly had an impact on the act not being passed.

At the time of writing this article, the story of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot last month by a neighbourhood watch captain in Florida, has been put under the spotlight on Twitter. In this instance, social media has fuelled a rush of publicity and activism around demands for justice. The flood of support for Martin’s family on social networking sites has been enormous; in 7 days a dedicated facebook page gained more than 31,000 fans and there have been more than 596,000 mentions on Twitter*, causing the hashtag #JusticeForTrayvon to internationally trend.

‘Slactivism’ might not be the most dignified term but you can’t deny it makes a difference, nor can critics continue to question the impact that social media can have on a campaign…whether it’s in respect to an activist cause or (apologies for the crude reference) raising brand awareness.

* Stats by social media monitoring firm PeopleBrowsr