Much ado has been made about the power of social networking and its import in activism, be it political or social. But as politicians, activists, and corporations flock to the new medium, not enough attention is being paid to the most important facet of strategic communication: how does this technology help us achieve our goal?
Politicians from all parties and leanings, particularly Republicans, have been turning to social networking, after seeing their effectiveness in President Obama’s campaign. But while it seems that a Facebook page and a Twitter account are mandatory for our politicians, that doesn’t mean they are using them effectively. In the realm of corporate uses, Gap may have learned this lesson the hard way, as their attempt to crowd-source their new logo design failed.
Social networking can have great power, but strong limitations as well. Sarah Kessler of Mashable does a good job of delineating the activist power of social networks – key among which is tailoring your message for the audience. Twitter and Facebook, for example, are not designed to do the same thing, although they can overlap (as the growth of aggregators like ping and tweetdeck demonstrate) – one is designed more for information sharing, the other might be better used to build community. Strategic communicators can use these networks to build a brand, to distribute information, and to get people involved, but this is likely to be an incremental process. For example, friending a politician on Facebook may be the extent of many people’s activism – some will donate and some will vote, but not all of them.
Recognizing both the benefits and the drawbacks of relying on social media is not purely an academic exercise. Strategic communicators need to develop a clear goal for their use of social media, as well as their desired outcomes. Learning how to move people from “slacktivism” to “activism” is the challenge that strategic communicators using these new technologies face.