Bandwidth » Activism http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth Insights from H&K Canada's social media strategy team Fri, 07 Jan 2011 21:05:56 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 en hourly 1 Gladwell on the Sidelines http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/09/28/gladwell-on-the-sidelines/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/09/28/gladwell-on-the-sidelines/#comments Tue, 28 Sep 2010 10:57:36 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:9023240 Malcolm Gladwell tends to write about what exists and why, not what is coming into existence and what it means or how to advance it.

In an article in the October 4th issue of The New Yorker called Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, he does it again with social media activism:

. . . it is a form of organizing which favors weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have an impact.

He is talking, of course, about ’slacktivism’ which is the pundit’s dismissive term for the way many people leave their militancy on the walls of Facebook pages:

Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make real sacrifice.

Contrasted to this is “high-risk activism” which is at the core of disruptive social change like that which started the civil rights movement in the US in the late 50s and early 60s . . . “Activism that challenges the status quo – that attacks deeply rooted problems – is not for the faint of heart.” It requires, as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (rendered in the picture above) and Gladwell agree, strategy, discipline and hierarchy. (That’s why the Bolsheviks led a revolution and anarchists could not.)

No argument there. But to say this is not Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is short-sighted and something of a straw-man line of reasoning. Yes Facebook and Twitter are weak-tie networks and will never in themselves be platforms for sweeping systemic change. But they do a couple of things well: they create ties where there were none before; and they are a source of ideas. People making connections and debating ideas are fertile ground for social activism, just like the late night chats of the freshmen in Greensboro who courageously challenged racism at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, Gladwell’s apocryphal story (not in the facts, which are true, but in the significance Gladwell affords it) starting point for his article.

I wish Gladwell had spent his awesome intellectual gifts thinking about what use of the social web could move weak-tie connections to the strong-tie relationships that are midwives to strategic and disciplined social activism. He should take a close look at successful online political and community organizing (such as the Obama election campaign about which he says nothing) and see how it converts loose networks into a campaign force. Or he should imagine a Facebook campaign which, at its inception, builds in mechanisms for organizing action, for gathering and unleashing committed high-risk activists.

Instead, Gladwell plays to the myopic crowd who find it easier to talk about limits than about opportunties.

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Digital for the Defense http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/05/07/digital-for-the-defense/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/05/07/digital-for-the-defense/#comments Fri, 07 May 2010 20:55:05 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:7597684

The plaintiff's bar, according to Richard Levick, "has asserted digital dominance over the defense. In countless class action engagements, plaintiffs’ attorneys have outpaced the companies they target in search engine marketing and optimization (SEM and SEO), in the blogosphere, and on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube."

The same can be said for companies under attack by activist groups and angry citizens. Activist organizations are much better at using the social web in attack mode, although they nearly always have far fewer resources at their disposal than their targets. The examples are legion, from Nestle to Toyota to critics of the development of Canada's oil sands.

It isn't so odd really. To use the social web to greatest effect, you need quick decision-making, nimble approval of content, faith that public opinion matters, and willingness to let others speak for you . . . in other words, actions counter to the command-and-control and circle-the-wagons mindset that overtakes the C-suite in a crisis. Unless it is proved that public opinion will influence the purchase behaviour of a company's customers, piss off regulators or make investors unhappy, there is a propensity for managers to equate defense with inaction.

But that isn't the best strategy. As Mao Zedong said "the only real defense is active defense.", which is a good description of what companies should think of doing online, and a more felicitous strategy for the social web than the common adage that 'the best defense is a good offense.'

Companies don't need to be combative or belligerent as might a plaintiff's counsel in the U.S. But they should offer -- and be willing to discuss -- a point of view using social web tools for three reasons:

  1. A transparent, fact-based story shared with appropriate humility (if a mistake has been made) and discussed will get traction with non-aligned, non-dogmatic (yes, there are some) social web participants. The critics on the social web may shout the loudest, but the conversationalists and collectors can have political impact (Note . . .  Forrester Research social technographic categories)
  2. The ubiquitous use of search -- on any platform (Google, Twitter, YouTube etc.) -- means that the company's angle on an issue or problem at least stands a chance of getting exposed to  non-obdurate or non-ideologically driven citizens.
  3. Digital memory is timeless and the next time something happens to the company that digital retrospection may not just be of a mess but also of an accurate explanation.
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The plaintiff’s bar, according to Richard Levick, “has asserted digital dominance over the defense. In countless class action engagements, plaintiffs’ attorneys have outpaced the companies they target in search engine marketing and optimization (SEM and SEO), in the blogosphere, and on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.”

The same can be said for companies under attack by activist groups and angry citizens. Activist organizations are much better at using the social web in attack mode, although they nearly always have far fewer resources at their disposal than their targets. The examples are legion, from Nestle to Toyota to critics of the development of Canada’s oil sands.

It isn’t so odd really. To use the social web to greatest effect, you need quick decision-making, nimble approval of content, faith that public opinion matters, and willingness to let others speak for you . . . in other words, actions counter to the command-and-control and circle-the-wagons mindset that overtakes the C-suite in a crisis. Unless it is proved that public opinion will influence the purchase behaviour of a company’s customers, piss off regulators or make investors unhappy, there is a propensity for managers to equate defense with inaction.

But that isn’t the best strategy. As Mao Zedong said “the only real defense is active defense., which is a good description of what companies should think of doing online, and a more felicitous strategy for the social web than the common adage that ‘the best defense is a good offense.’

Companies don’t need to be combative or belligerent as might a plaintiff’s counsel in the U.S. But they should offer — and be willing to discuss — a point of view using social web tools for three reasons:

  1. A transparent, fact-based story shared with appropriate humility (if a mistake has been made) and discussed will get traction with non-aligned, non-dogmatic (yes, there are some) social web participants. The critics on the social web may shout the loudest, but the conversationalists and collectors can have political impact (Note . . .  Forrester Research social technographic categories)
  2. The ubiquitous use of search — on any platform (Google, Twitter, YouTube etc.) — means that the company’s angle on an issue or problem at least stands a chance of getting exposed to  non-obdurate or non-ideologically driven citizens.
  3. Digital memory is timeless and the next time something happens to the company that digital retrospection may not just be of a mess but also of an accurate explanation.
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Activist Boot Camps for Everyone http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/04/28/activist-boot-camps-for-everyone/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/bandwidth/2010/04/28/activist-boot-camps-for-everyone/#comments Wed, 28 Apr 2010 11:15:00 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:7468473 Take a look at this description of an activists' training summit being organized in seven U.S. cities this spring and summer:

The following training courses were designed for the grassroots and focus on key areas of effective activism.

Grassroots Organizing:

  • Creative Leadership
  • Micro-targeting Precincts
  • Building Effective Coalitions
  • Media Training

Online Activism:

  • Online Image Management
  • Blogs and Wikis
  • Patriots 2.0
  • Creative Messaging

I know what you're thinking: It's just another left-wing fringe group preparing for the G20 Summit in June in Toronto or a protest over some environmental sin or other committed by a multinational corporation somewhere in the world.

Not this time. The social web activist boot camps are part of a series of 'Post-Party Summits' organized by a group announcing "the beginning of the new American Revolution, one in which we organize for liberty and take back our communities from the political class." That's right . . . The Tea Party, or one of its sister organizations on the right, is looking to train its supporters in social web influence strategies.

Ironically, it may be that the Obama presidential campaign's successful use of the social web has given the "enemy" new ideas for grassroots organizing.  

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Take a look at this description of an activists’ training summit being organized in seven U.S. cities this spring and summer:

The following training courses were designed for the grassroots and focus on key areas of effective activism.

Grassroots Organizing:

  • Creative Leadership
  • Micro-targeting Precincts
  • Building Effective Coalitions
  • Media Training

Online Activism:

  • Online Image Management
  • Blogs and Wikis
  • Patriots 2.0
  • Creative Messaging

I know what you’re thinking: It’s just another left-wing fringe group preparing for the G20 Summit in June in Toronto or a protest over some environmental sin or other committed by a multinational corporation somewhere in the world.

Not this time. The social web activist boot camps are part of a series of ‘Post-Party Summits’ organized by a group announcing “the beginning of the new American Revolution, one in which we organize for liberty and take back our communities from the political class.” That’s right . . . The Tea Party, or one of its sister organizations on the right, is looking to train its supporters in social web influence strategies.

Ironically, it may be that the Obama presidential campaign’s successful use of the social web has given the “enemy” new ideas for grassroots organizing.  

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