Social media is a powerful catalyst for the exchange of ideas and information. It allows an individual or organization to engage its audience instantly via texting or by posting pictures and videos with the hope of eliciting a reaction and eventual inclusion towards a cause. Furthermore, the very same individuals and organizations can continue to shape their intended audience’s reaction by offering their opinions concerning a particular movement.
Gladwell(2010) argued that social media is by no means re-inventing activism, all the while describing some very impactful scenes from the civil rights era in the sixties where people factually risked life and limb to stand up for their values. He further asserted that contrary to this level of risk and passion, activism associated with social media is passive participation without sustainable enthusiasm or strength because it’s based on weak ties. However, for many of the individuals who connected to them, their emotional attachment and commitment was anything but weak. If sustainable activism requires obsession and commitment, then it makes more sense that social media will facilitate rather than decrease promotion by connecting more of those who do have passion. At the same time, passersby who are not engaged in the fervor can still meaningfully contribute. This paper will argue that through the use of social media with its powerful strengths and capabilities, the recruitment and sustainment of people towards a common cause, be it their time or monetary efforts, can in fact be achieved.
Social Media’s Strengths and Capabilities
In contrast to Gladwell’s ideologies mentioned earlier, the strengths and capabilities of social media cannot be ignored and quite frankly speak for themselves, whereby social media technologies are in fact re-inventing the rules of activism because of the extensiveness and quality of its reach. As will be discussed further in-depth, such strengths and capabilities include how social media is in fact changing public awareness, the ways in which social media is delivered or word of mouth persuasion is conducted, the increased sense of urgency created with immediate information deliverance, and finally, expectation change which focuses on both participation and individualistic aspects.
Social media without a doubt changes public awareness because information can be disseminated very quickly and without borders, thus creating a new baseline for change, for example after the horrific earthquake in Chile. While many people were motivated to text in donations, more than a few were committed enough to get on a plane and go to Chile to help where they could. Another recent example was that of the powerful earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, whereby again donations were gathered through texting along with those who couldn’t just sit idly by and watch, they had to go and help where they could. In both cases, the many garnered a newer appreciation of the scale of both these disasters in parts of the world that might never have invaded their normal day to day lives. In both instances, social media gave them an urgency much more potent than getting highlights in the evening news while reclining without interest on the sofa.
Delivery of information through social media otherwise known as word of mouth, lets us gather information from someone in our social media circle and whether this information is from a Facebook friend, a Twitter follower, a real friend, or someone in a social card playing group, it is more credible and can travel fast, very fast. The magnitude, swiftness and real-time nature of the social network and the increased possibilities for people to share and express themselves play a crucial role in this because it has context and word of mouth validation. And due to the fact that it is from ones social bubble, a real sense of urgency will no doubt ensue.
Social media networks interoperability across the spectrum of mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram gives it urgency, makes it personal and allows for immediate individual action. By way of example, being able to post a picture on Facebook and then re-posting it onto Instagram. This was exemplified earlier during both the Chilean and Indonesia disasters by quickly and methodically spreading critical information across the many spectrums, thus appealing to people towards making a donation. Further recent examples include both the General Elections in Canada and the US, whereby on both actual election days, all social media spectrums were heavily utilised in hastening people to get out and vote before time ran out, demonstrating a broad audience reach in both scenarios.
Finally, social media technologies have changed the emotional force of interactions by changing our outlook about involvement and individuality. The ability to act, even if it is only to further a twitter post, allows us to feel a level of connection in events we might not otherwise care about. This act, while insignificant as compared to the heroism of the students at the coffee counter, creates commitment and emotional buy-in as well as a sense that our individual actions matter, which in turn has a motivational effect on people towards a cause, because in the end, social change isn’t about what particular medium people use. It’s about people and what they trust, their goals, and how they correspond, come together, and give.
It is quite obvious that social media campaigning can provide a great opportunity for effective activist recruitment towards any cause. This is credited to the ability in which users of social media can disseminate information at a quicker rate to a larger platform of people in many forms (Kristofferson et al., 2014). Although some disagree regarding the use of social media and its ability to aid in the recruitment of activists, the counter argument throughout this paper has by virtue of its strengths and capabilities shown us that the impact with which social media has had through recent real life occurrences is powerful. No matter what variant of social media platform is used in aid of recruitment, people and organizations must first and foremost use due diligence in what they say and post, as continued attraction is dependent on it. In the end, social media is a platform used for real-time communication and is only as good as the information that is pushed through it. The range and enormity of it has still to be completely understood and harnessed according to this author, however, with discipline along with a clear and concise plan for its usage, any campaign plan towards the recruitment of future activists for any cause would only benefit from its use.