Moving from Awareness to Action
Here is my checklist for moving beyond awareness into action:
1) The Narrative Matters Most. Dr. Marshall Ganz, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, explains that “the story of self” is critical to the success of movements large and small. Ganz built his model of organizing around sharing the stories of “self,” “now,” and “us;” in short, connecting the stories of the leader/organizer, the group, and the present issue. The leader who best tells these stories — and empowers others to do so as well — will find the most success. Why does an issue matter to you? What in your experience has brought you to care about the issue? Can you find pieces of others’ experiences that connect them to the issue? Why does the issue matter now?
According to Ganz, nothing beats telling these stories well. The most effective narratives not only tell the story of the individual, but find a way to tie the group into that story.
We see this each day with blogger friends we support, the personal stories like Invisible Children’s KONY2012 campaign, Susan Niebur’s tireless crusade for more cancer research, blogger Heather Spohr’s passionate fight for her daughter Maddie, and countless others that force you to stop what you’re doing and act. Both Invisible Children’s viral video campaign and Susan’s years of writing about her fight with cancer have motivated people to particular actions by connecting their disparate experiences to their followers’ lives.
This initial connection loses power if it is not continually cultivated. After you tell the story and ask for an action, you must measure the impact and report back. Nothing is more frustrating for a user than to take an action and receive no feedback. This leads me to my second point…
2) Small actions matter, especially when the impact is shared. Small actions matter if you show them how and why. In fact, research shows that women (in particular) are more apt to support causes that directly show how their action helps. One successful implementation of this is Toms shoes — when you buy a pair of Toms, a person in need also receives a pair. Another great example is Two Degrees nutrition bars- buy one, give a hungry child a meal. Even if your model of giving back isn’t quite this direct, It’s important to continue this reporting back to your constituency.
People want micro actions — small and easy steps they can take, like sharing a story on Facebook — which can become part of a groundswell like we saw with the response to the Komen Foundation’s defunding of Planned Parenthood. Your job is to report back on progress and encourage even more participation.
3) Take advantage of the news cycle to introduce a cause- and target it to your audience. When an issue important to you becomes ripe, you need to be ready to respond. When Beyonce was seen breastfeeding new baby Blue Ivy while out to lunch, African American women who support breastfeeding took advantage of this opening of the policy window. They used their powerful social media presence on blogs, Twitter and Facebook to put out a call to action to black mothers, who breastfeed at lower rates than white mothers, encouraging them to nurse their babies.
After the Susan G. Komen’s controversial decision to end funding for breast health programs delivered by Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood harnessed the backlash, raising millions of dollars in a matter of days. Had Planned Parenthood stalled for even a day, they would have lost the energy of the movement.
4) Online powers offline and vice versa. The internet is the best way to power offline action. Organizers are often urged to “go to where the people are,” and now more than ever those people are online. And it’s not about mass: in truth, very few campaigns ever go viral. But by effectively mobilizing a small number who really care about your issue, you can inspire a few people to take up your cause and take it very seriously indeed. Organizing offline events using services like Meetup.com both allows users to post events, and for users to find events put on by individuals and organizations they might not otherwise know about.
Image credit digitalart.