The Oxford English Dictionary defines activism as;
The policy of active participation or engagement in a particular sphere of activity; spec. the use of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
Therefore online activism is the process of actively participating through an online mediated environment whether mobile, tablet, desktop etc. Once online a wide set of instruments dubbed ‘meta-tools’, are available for the campaigning activist, each capable of empowering their efforts to achieve political and social change.
The internet acts as a pseudo tool box, the platform that each tool is contained within. However despite the change in medium it’s important to recognise that the strategic goals remain the same:
“Inform the people, activate the people, and organize the people into communities dedicated to achieving your policy goals.”
The internet has always played a critical role in informing people since it’s very inception, and although activation and organization were once previously possible the changing meta-tool trends are indicative of the ‘battle’ transitioning from the corners of forums, email and dedicated portals. As Rosenblatt states
‘Online organizers are facing a migration from email to social networks, instant messengers, RSS feeds, and SMS text messaging.’
Without dwelling too much upon these individual tools, it’s perhaps best to focus on the commonalities shared between each. The Meta-Activism project summarises a number of scholars & academics studies into these tools, their findings distilled into a fascinating list of the best functional typologies.
Among the various typologies it became clear the joining of activists, their resources and produce was key. Whether deemed ‘Mobilising’ ‘Co-ordinating’ ‘Collaborating’ or perhaps most poignantly ‘Aggregating’, the core strength of online activism has often been cited as the ability to collate large audiences.
Social media allows individuals to find like-minded people they otherwise would have never known.
Therefore certain tools each assist in establishing a collective audience vigorously engaged with a range of political and social issues. With a number of recent high profile activist movements positioned against brands (Nestle, TopShop, Vodafone etc.) I began to consider the opportunities that entailed. No viable amount of money or well executed campaign could hope to achieve remotely similar levels of audience engagement, yet as brand managers are we maximizing similar opportunities?
Can we reclaim these tools to harness the wider audience?
From a marketing perspective ultimately were talking about appeasing the casual activist here rather than the more violent of late, but the point remains they each represent a viable risk and therefore opportunity. I like to think of them as the keyboard warrior, they’re full of consumer savvy and armed with a set of weapons at their disposal, ready to dispel their individual consumer anguish.
Empowered by the vocalising tools the internet has provided, boycotts have become the norm and consumer backlash forums some of the most vibrant among the web. Our keyboard warrior has become accustomed to utilising social networking services to vent their criticism, developing opposing websites and fostering a collective culture of brand bashers. While the success of convenience services like Go-Petition have streamlined the process again demonstrating consumers desire to instigate change.
This change can now even be demanded directly through the likes of Twitter, the latest meta-tool trend that has perhaps become the most useful in consumer activism. As the newest public sphere, our warriors voice their discontent directly towards brands, issuing the dreaded hash tag and notifying the wider audience of the discontent.
First Great Western, or should I say First Great Fail know this only too well their infamous delays and customer service critique continuing to mare their twitter account. They’re aren’t the only example though, lots of organisations receive some form of customer demanded change.
Yet, just as all good relationship marketing gurus would advise, it’s not the critique thats the problem. It’s your response. Social media management must ensure isolated customer discontent remain isolated. Issues management at the very core, how are organisations tackling the change demanded by the keyboard warrior?
It seems some fare better than others, in particular StarBucks has taken great efforts to appease the criticism it faces through the introduction of it’s Idea Platform. A organisation once violently opposed for attempting to trademark Ethiopian Coffee and operating poor water conservation schemes, as Leroux of the Times said; “The Ethical Approach of Starbuck is hard to swallow”.
In an attempt to manage potential activist attention Starbuck created a branded social community, where all ideas, critique and suggestions are accepted. A subtle attempt to turn negative affect into a positive through mutually beneficial solutions the buregonoing platform has been ported to Facebook & Twitter indicating an a organisation that appears to listen via all their channels.
As a result ‘casual activists’ are essentially still seeking positive change yet they are attempting to orchestrate such change thorough a Starbucks branded community. To achieve the change an idea must generate peer support akin to the level of support traditional policy change requires.
In this sense, Starbucks Idea could be said to be so much more than a mindless CRM activity, but in fact a branded imitation of the activists natural habitat. Starbuck Idea in essence provides the connected customer base, the meta-tools and the incentive of positive change all harnessed within a online mediated environment, and this in my opinion is an excellent idea!