Social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness, for both brands and causes. In addition to giving everyone with access a voice, it connects us all to diverse ideas, backgrounds, and cultures. And when we avoid the trap of isolation, social media allows us to become more aware of diversity issues, which makes us smarter and more tolerant overall.
As Joshua Keller, president of digital agency Union Square Media, notes:
With sensitive matters such as race, diversity, politics, and religion everyone is entitled to their own opinion and has the right to express that. Most feel that social media is the perfect platform to do so.
In 2015, we saw a host of diversity issues rise to the forefront on social media including #BlackLivesMatter, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, #IStandWithAhmed and more recently #OscarsSoWhite. While some of these hashtag activism campaigns came and went quickly, all have sparked inescapable conversation on social media that forces us to reflect on the reality of diversity and how minorities are treated at school, in workplaces and in the media.
Case in point, the nominees for the 2016 Oscar Awards, which raised the ire of the African-American community with its lack of diversity. Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee were perhaps the most vocal in speaking out against the list of all white nominees, but even show host Chris Rock has amended his monologue to address the controversy during the show.
While star power certainly contributed to bringing attention to this issue, there is no doubt that the trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was also a big part of driving the conversation. Indeed, in the days following the announcement of the nominees, the hashtag was used more than 70,000 times on Twitter, retweeted more than 90,000 times and generated more than one-billion impressions, according to data from Postano.
Ben Hordell, founding partner of DXagency, points out that the purpose of hashtags is to organize conversations online so they’re easily found. While there’s plenty of mindless chatter, Hordell notes that social media has enabled people to rally around causes regardless of physical proximity:
There are some of these causes that come up that people really wouldn’t have had a way to participate in if it wasn’t for social media. I’ve seen many things catch fire and in many instances promote change.
In the case of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy had to look at the swell of criticism, for a second year in a row, and ask itself what it was doing wrong. And while the hashtag prompted soul searching for the Academy, the big question is whether or not it will actually make changes to the nomination process.
Not all cause-related hashtags are as controversial as #OscarsSoWhite. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great example, according to Hordell, of a campaign with no right or wrong, where people could get involved in a relatively simple way. Of course, others saw the success of the #IceBucketChallenge and tried to reproduce the results, but the campaigns didn’t catch on because they were forced, Hordell said:
There is something to be said about the natural unintended viral movement that just kind of catches fire.
Here are some tips for sparking your own viral movement on social media:
- Tap into passion: Viral movements are almost always emotionally driven. In the case of #OscarsSoWhite it was anger, but it doesn’t have to be. Hordell says tapping into public passions for a particular issue is a key component in fueling awareness for social causes on social media.
- Enlist influencers and celebrities: In both the case of the Oscars and the Ice Bucket Challenge, celebrity involvement helped to spread awareness. Keller says when you have people with great organic reach attached to your cause, it always gets more attention and spreads awareness more quickly.
- Use visual media: Video is quickly becoming one of the most engaging mediums on social and according to Keller, “there is a viral factor to videos that a 140 character Tweet can’t match.” He added that video for a cause will naturally get shared faster and more widely than a short line of text.
Readers: Do you feel that hashtag-fueled social activism can cause real change?