I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.


Enough Already! Online Activism Works!

(Awesome photo courtesy of Gratisography)

When feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez wanted to challenge the Bank of England's decision to replace Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the five-pound note, she turned to the social web as her toolkit.

With 35,000 signatures on a Change.org online petition, extensive support for her on Twitter, a demonstration in front of the Bank mobilized through Twitter, and widespread media coverage resulting from the online profile of the campaign, the Bank's new governor (Canadian Mark Carney) changed its decision and announced that the image of Jane Austen would appear on the ten-pound note in 2017.

I'm led to point this out because of a challenge thrown at me yesterday. I was on a panel at the 2016 Public Affairs Association of Canada annual conference ('The Art & Science of Public Affairs—Digital Disruption') discussing the emergence of digital storytelling within advocacy campaigns and was interrogated, rather combatively, to point to evidence (or 'data' as the interlocutor put it) of successful change efforts intermediated by social agitation.

Since the French's Ketchup Facebook campaign failed to convince, I'm posting a short list here of a few more digitally supported campaigns that put the lie to the idea that online crusades (or what the University of Oxford's Helen Magrett and her colleagues call 'tiny acts of political participation') can't result in meaningful change, especially if combined with offline action 

In case such campaigns as #BlackLivesMatter, #OccupyWallStreet,#I Can'tBreathe, #EricGarner, #MikeBrown and #HandsUpDon'tShoot aren't evidence enough of the impact of social web-based political mobilization, then here are three more:

  1. A 217,000 person petition asking Mars, Incorporated to stop using artifical dyes in M&Ms because of their effect on hyperactivity saw Mar's President and CEO announce in February 2016: “Our consumers are the boss and we hear them. If it’s the right thing to do for them, it’s the right thing to do for Mars”, and agree to remove the offending dyes from its products including M&Ms.
  2. In 2013 the Kitsilano Coast Guard base was closed by the Canadian Conservative Party, an unpopular deicison. After public outcry including 11,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, a Facebook campaign and support from local municipal politicians, the base was reopened two months ago.
  3. Feburary 2016 saw the fin whale whaling company, Hvalur, cancel its summer hunt of endangered fin whales after an extensive campaign by wildlife organizations and an Avaaz community petition with more than a million signatures.

Not enough?

Follow some of Change.org's successful local petition campaigns, take a look at the opportunities to petition the White House on We The People, check out the role of social in some of Purpose's successful crusades, or the fact that through the UK Cabinet Offie e-petition site 222 petitions got a response from the government and 25 petitions were debated in the House,

Since there is as yet no database of successful social media campaigns as far as I know, convincing cynics won't be easy.

This continues my frustrating efforts. 


"Marketers Ruin Everything"

(Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire @ http://gratisography.com/)

The headline is typical Gary Vaynerchuk hyperbole. In his 2013 video called Stop Storytelling Like it's 2007, Mr. Vaynerchuk put it more categorically:

The one thing I know more than the sun is coming up tomorrow is that marketers ruin everything. As a proud marketer, it's what we do.

A successful marketer, entrepreneur and author (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, #ASKGARYVEE), Vaynerchuk will find nothing to disagree with in a recent social insights study from Sprout Social that tracks how far most companies are from satisfylng consumers with their social media campaigns and strategies. According to the study, "brand behaviours don't even come close to syncing up with people's expectations on social."


Because marketers can't seem to get their minds around the idea that consumers want less and less to be pushed product, shouted at or marketed to. They don't crave more promotional content.

Instead they want to hear from the company when they ask a question or identify a problem

Yet according to this insights study only 11% of consumers receive a reply when they get in touch with a company through social media — the preferred route by the way — about an issue, problem or question.

Recently, I posted a simple question to American Standard Canada on Facebook about the availability of one of their products. A few days later I received this response (admittedly a better response time than for many brands).

I did . . . they didn't. I bought a different product.

The study evidences what I think of as a social strategy investment disconnect. Money is splashed into creative online marketing campaigns, when a few more dollars could profitably be channeled into active social media customer service and social network community management. What such an approach lacks in glitter, will be made up for in affinity between people and brands.

And maybe while they're at it why not swell that reinvestment a little by shifing dollars from the hard sell and promotion to telling stories that startle with emotion, empathy, and delight . . .

And, yes, reply when asked.

As Sprout Social says:

While brands view Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as broadcast outlets for pumping out promotional content, consumers recognize these social channels for what they truly are: powerful portals for two-way dialogue.