Social media still the way to effect change

Kenneth Lin

It has now become a cliché, but no less a general truth, to say that the magnitude of social media’s influence ever since its advent has been enormous, and its potential to grow cannot be understated.

Even in Singapore, where social media has thus far failed to bring about electoral change, its importance will no doubt grow exponentially as social media usage continues to skyrocket and surpass traditional media, especially among the young. It is thus important to position ourselves for the future, that we utilise social media not just quantitatively more than other media, but also strategically and creatively, that maximises impact with comparatively little resources.

The aim of a social media campaign is three-fold. It can directly pressure policy-makers into making changes on an issue. Secondly, it can educate the public about the issue at hand, which will help to indirectly pressure policy-makers. Thirdly, a social media campaign can educate and change lifestyles, which, in the case of, say, plastics and its impact on the environment, can reduce public demand for plastics, thus reducing its supply and ultimately, its negative impact on the environment.

In its short history, social media has been able to mobilise people and start movements around the globe, almost effortlessly. The truth is, however, that behind every successful social media campaign lies an effective and well-thought-out strategy that maximises its outreach.

A good social media campaign starts with very specifically identifying its goal and intended outcome. It requires focus on each social media account with a good knowledge on each of its intended audience, along with the type of content most suited for it. Graphics, videos, petitions can all be utilised effectively in a campaign. Influencers, or leaders in their respective fields, when employed effectively, can help bridge the gap between the larger society and politics, particularly in a depoliticised society like Singapore.

Another strategy is crowd-sourcing, which has enabled Rappler, a news website in the Philippines, to collect crowd-sourced information on weather and storm conditions in the different areas of the region, providing this real-time information to the public and the government, which helps to reduce response time in sending aid to afflicted areas.

Instagram, unlike Facebook, is great for powerful imagery that immediately grabs the attention of audiences. A recent image of an emotionless Syrian boy covered in ashes and blood after being rescued from the bombings, broke hearts and drew the world’s attention to the plight of civilians in the Syrian civil war.

An oft-overlooked part of a campaign is building a relationship with your audience. It is important to let people know how their contributions have been translated into action, and how effective the campaign has been, through frequent updates. This rewards their participation and builds trust, and lends momentum for future campaigns. At appropriate times and when possible, offline activities can be organised which can serve as an indicator of how engaged your audience is with the campaign, and how it translates to active participation.

A post on social media has only a few seconds to capture the audience’s attention. It needs to be authentic, appeal to the audience’s values and emotions, and make them feel like they are gaining something from your story. Increasingly, commercial brands have been adopting the strategy of selling an idea, a lifestyle, rather than a product. Ultimately, we should engage people with their values and aspirations first, before they are able to invest in a topic or cause.

Kenneth Lin is a member of SDP’s youth wing, the Young Democrats. He contributed this article following his participation in a CALD workshop on climate change in Bali, Indonesia in August 2016. 

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