TW: This article contains mentions of racism, sexual assault, and violence that might be triggering to survivors.
The connection between social media and activism has been steadily growing for the better part of a decade. With political and social causes rallying followers and other passionate changemakers through platforms like Instagram and Twitter, social media has become more than a megaphone for activism: it’s become an integral part of pretty much any movement.
From the first appearance of #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 to the powerful rise of 2017’s #MeToo, and #SayTheirNames in 2020, the use of hashtags and other social media efforts – like viral challenges, for example – have played an important role in mobilizing the masses and encouraging people to fight against powerful and oppressive systems designed to keep minorities down.
With that in mind, social media is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools that brands, activists, advocates, and other changemakers can leverage in order to voice their opinion on things that matter most to them.
Are you looking for a place to start doing the same? Keep reading for our favorite tips on how to combine the unique powers of social media and activism to make a positive impact in your community!
Social media + activism = social media activism
Let’s start with a few basics, shall we? “What the hell is social media activism?”
In a nutshell, social media activism is a form of activism that relies heavily on social media platforms to mobilize, inspire, and connect changemakers who are fighting for a specific cause.
- Creating awareness with hashtags and viral challenges
- Collecting donations, both monetary and in-kind
- Hosting community events
- And empowering/inspiring audiences through concrete action
However, there’s a fine line between genuine activism and performative activism – and social media can cause it to get a liiiiiitle blurry.
There’s been a lot of talk online recently – especially since the Black Lives Matter movement resurfaced in full force after the murder of George Floyd – about how some users and brands have co-opted certain movements for the sole purpose of seeming “woke” online. Often referred to as “slacktivism”, this type of performative action usually involves someone using a hashtag once or posting a quick graphic (or a black square 👀) and thinking “That’s enough work from me…”.
What happens next? A slew of criticism (rightly so) and a public call-out for not doing more to actually help, forever branding these accounts as lazy, uninformed, and, if we’re being honest, pretty damn useless.
By now you’re probably thinking: “Holy sh*t, there’s no way to win with this…”
Listen, we get it. Social media activism is probably starting to feel like a minefield where one step in the wrong direction can cause even the strongest business to crumble under the pressure of public scrutiny.
However, we also have good news! There is a way to do it in alignment with your brand values (and your personal ones) and it doesn’t involve much more than staying honest to yourself, your beliefs, and your audience.
Have we sparked your curiosity? Let’s dive in!
Going “beyond the hashtag”
Hashtags and viral challenges are great, we get that.
However, what usually happens is that a hashtag/challenge will gain momentary traction and then…poof! It’ll disappear into a chasm of obscurity, overshadowed by the “next big thing”. So, what can you do to make sure your efforts go beyond latching onto the hashtag du jour?
Here are 4 ways to combine social media and activism as catalysts for genuine change in your community.
1. Be clear about where you stand
There’s no place for lukewarm opinions in the world of social media and activism. When it comes to issues like racism, sexual assault, homophobia, police brutality, ableism, and other harmful forms of discrimination, you’re either against it or you’re part of the problem.
When sharing a statement (or any other form of content) on social media regarding your activism, a few great things to keep in mind are…
- Make sure there’s no room for ambiguity
- Call out names (whenever possible)
- Stay away from vague language or buzzwords
- Cut straight to the point
People want to connect with brands who have clear opinions and aren’t just jumping from one cause to the next because it’s “popular”. They want someone who will fight beside them when the going gets tough, not someone who will bail in the name of saving face.
And, if you can’t use concrete language and take a clear and strong stance against an issue, it’s probably for the best that you stay silent and educate yourself about the cause before creating an “echo chamber”.
However, it’s worth considering that silence makes you complicit, that consumers will notice, and that they’ll probably begin to ask questions. Again, that’s why we recommend educating yourself and NOT asking marginalized folx to explain to you something (use Google, duh!)
2. Show people how you’re working offline…
Very much in line with the idea of going “beyond the hashtag”, taking offline action – and sharing how you’re doing it – is an important part of social media activism.
A few ways to take things offline are:
- Collecting money and choosing an organization to donate it to
- Continuing to educate yourself and your employees
- Sharing the ways your community can participate (flyers, phone banks, forums, etc)
- Marching, protesting, and being loud on the ground
- Speaking to your representatives or government officials about making a change
Sharing information online is great, reposting resources is a vital way for smaller causes to reach more people, but if what you’re doing stops beyond your phone screen…you’re not doing enough.
3. …and practice what you preach
As a business owner or brand, you have a lot of power in your hands to lead by example. This is especially important when it comes to social media and activism.
Let’s analyze this for a second…
- If you’re posting about #BlackLivesMatter, but refuse to hire black folx in positions of power…are you really supporting the cause?
- If you talk about dismantling patriarchal organizations, but don’t support women who come forward with testimonies of sexual assault…are you really an ally?
- And if you’re constantly sharing tips about sustainability and “going green”, but continue to support businesses like Amazon and McDonald’s…doesn’t that sound a little hypocritical?
Don’t get us wrong, though. This doesn’t mean your business has to be perfect in order to support a cause.
(Psst…Perfection is unattainable, especially in business.)
What matters is that you’re working to improve your current practices and that you have quantifiable results to show for your efforts:
- Do you pledge to hire more Black, Asian, Indigenous and/or Latino folx in positions of power? Show people your hiring numbers.
- Do you promise to implement more sustainable practices in the office? List the ways you’re working to be more effective in protecting the planet.
- Do you promise to actively work against discriminatory practices? Show up with the actionable steps you’re taking to do so.
Whatever you do: don’t make empty promises. Your audience will see through them and you’ll be instantly called out.
4. Keep things accessible and inclusive
Real talk: Social media activism isn’t real activism unless it’s inclusive of everyone. This means working towards ensuring that your actions don’t leave out already marginalized communities looking for a space to make their voices heard.
Here are a few ways to make your social media and activism work more inclusive:
- Creating safe spaces online where people can voice their opinion when they can’t attend protests or marches in-person
- Adding closed captions to your videos to help those who are hard of hearing
- Including photo descriptions to make visuals more accessible
- Making room for different forms of activism within your own vision
- Understanding that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to dismantling systems of oppression
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Without inclusivity, your social media and activism stance will fall flat and, let’s be honest, come through as hypocritical.
Press pause and reconsider your social media strategy to include activsm
It’s important to keep in mind that whatever way you choose to present your activism online will – in one way or another – end up affecting your marketing strategy, too.
If your feelings are authentic, you’ll understand that posting about how you’re against the indiscriminate murder of the Black community followed by an ad for a service you provide seems…tone-deaf.
That being said, the best way to ensure that your social media and activism are working together is to hold off on any promotional material.
- Postponing any content that doesn’t add value to the current conversation and takes away from the importance of the movement
- Re-allocating your ad budget to amplify other types of content that will educate and promote in support of a specific cause, even if that content comes from other brands or creators
- Not profiting from ANY of the support you’re voicing online. This isn’t about making more money, it’s about making an impact.
Reshuffling your strategy to make room for a conversation around social and political topics shouldn’t be cause for concern, though. The content will come out at some point…just not tomorrow (or the next day).
Social media and activism go together like…
We’ll let you finish the sentence 😉
There’s no denying that social media is a powerful tool that brands, activists, and advocates can harness to amplify their voice and unleash change within their communities.
However, it’s a tight line to walk that can easily veer off into “performative” territory or “fake allyship”.
And no one – no one – wants to see that happen, right? (Right.)
Here are just four ways you can go “beyond the hashtag” to make sure that your activism and social media are working together for good:
1. Take a clear stance and stay away from ambiguity
2. Show how you’re working towards offline action
3. Practice what you preach in the workplace
4. Keep things accessible and inclusive for everyone
…and that’s just the beginning! There’s no one way to do activism right as long as the ideals behind it are authentic and not just for show.
Where will you stand when the time comes to stand up for what matters?
What other ways are there to combine the power of social media and activism? Let us know how you’ve done it in the past!
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