06 June 2012
Despite countless events, talks, and seminars on Social Media (SM) we still seem to be confused as to its role and especially how to measure its impact. However, is knowing how to measure social media actually the right question or even the most interesting question? Maybe the question should be: what does SM catalyse? Or: how can we use it to create more sophisticated tools of communication? Despite social media being in its infancy, we are starting to see intelligent interpretations and uses of this new communication tool.
This is another point that has to be addressed: social media is a tool, not an industry. Therefore we must be patient and open minded about how people explore it. It is simply not constructive to criticise the mistakes people are making, as they will lead us to better comprehension of SM’s capabilities. The first example of how SM is creating impact came from a panel discussion at SXSW. The Colombian government discussed how social media changed the way politics reach rural communities. Freedom of speech has improved, tourism has expanded, and even economic growth has increased. At the heart of all of these improvements is trust, which at the moment is the most significant side effect of using SM effectively. People have a direct voice to tell real stories, voice their frustrations, and generate hope for a better future.
In 2008, a Colombian civilian started a Facebook page to stop the FARC from telling lies to people. By the afternoon the page had 10,000 followers. This launched a whole new set of rules of how news was being reported to people and set new metrics for civilian power. Discrediting such a powerful organisation would have been almost impossible without SM. This was part of the rebuilding of Colombia’s reputation, giving hope that a better future is possible! One of the most potent examples of the effectiveness of SM is the recent Joseph Kony debacle. Even though there was a lot of controversy surrounding the campaign its ethics, manipulation of facts, to over simplifying the politics of Uganda. However, all of that aside it was the first time SM was used in a sophisticated manner.
The Stop Kony 2012 message is simple – make Joseph Kony famous. There is no confusion or complexity about the message. We often see SM campaigns that are too layered or unfocused. Pick one simple through line and the more direct it is the quicker people will associate with your message.
Russell told the story so simply and emotively that even his 5 year old son was able to understand it. It has all the elements and characters of a captivating story. The villain is Kony, the baddest of the bad guys. The protagonist is a young survivor of the LRA reign of terror – we fall in love with him immediately. Finally we have the hero, us, the audience. We can do something right now to create an impact. Russell gives you two simple steps: spread the word and donate money. The first is so easy and immediate it caused a social media storm. The smartest part of the story was giving the audience the most important role, it jabs our ego to action. So when you tell your story make sure that your audience is not just a passive receiver, but an active participant in the story.
Russell didn’t tell us in numbers what his movement had done, he told us in actions. They were able to reach the Obama administration, set up schools, and set up radios to help keep people safe. The actions make it more tangible, we see that there is an impact.
When people connect with a message they are moved into action. The incredible spread of Kony 2012 shows just how effective a captivating video can be across social media – what will the next social media success be? Now we have an incredible new tool in social media to reach people fast and far, what else can we do?