How to Effect Social Change Using Social Media | A Guide

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By Gillian Stippa, Photographer

Social media should be considered a supplement when it comes to cultivating actionable change. In order for there to be mobilization, there must be hybridity between virtual and physical space. That is not to say that sharing content on social platforms doesn’t play a part in spreading information that can eventually lead to change. However, there must be an interplay between the nominal and the corporeal if a social media campaign is to gain congressional traction. 

What does this really mean?

Slacktivism is a buzzword that arose to describe a social media phenomenon: getting “involved” solely through low-cost/low effort methods of engaging (e.g, clicking “share,” or “like”).  High-level engagement on the other hand, and what is meant by action in the physical/corporeal sense, is a more significant contribution, such as volunteering, donating, meeting, etc. These latter forms of engagement directly result in large-scale change. But in order to get to that point in the process, low risk engagement must occur. In short, both are necessary for the sustainability of an idea. There needs to be room for every type of engagement.

But that begs the question, is there really a method? Or can social media spur high-level engagement? Let’s take a look at some examples.

Social Change Spurred by Social Media

It’s safe to say at this point that newsrooms have been completely disrupted by social media. Today, 62% of people get their news from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The New York Times reported the election of Donald Trump as the “starkest illustration yet that across the planet, social networks are helping to fundamentally rewire human society.” Called the year of fake news and misinformation, 2017 has seen unprecedented societal change due to the pervasive nature of social media. 

Another example of how social media sharing is causing real-world impact is in race relations. The death of Trayvon Martin and the much disputed Stand Your Ground law started as social sharing but soon manifested itself in high-level engagement – with images shared of people wearing hooded sweatshirts, active protests, and efforts to restructure the deep rooted biases in our current law enforcement system. 

How to do it? There isn’t a method

The answer to the question of methodology is that it takes a little bit of both: engagement exists on a spectrum. 

It starts by using social media to incite emotional connectedness. You need to create an emotion that causes action. However, knowing that you’re meddling in the world of emotions, personal perception, morality, etc., leveraging social requires moving purposefully but carefully. In terms of guidelines, there are only a few, and they are fluid. 

“Guidelines”

  • You must have a message – what’s your story, what’s the issue. It doesn’t matter if it’s clear, but it must evoke a reaction (preferably a good one). 
  • Focus your targeting. Let’s face it, some people just won’t care.
  • Make sure to leave room for discussion – let the people speak!
  • Use visuals - people scan before they look. Hard hitting visuals are often all you need to get your message across.
  • Be different, because you are. 


If you need some help in translating social engagement into action, contact the Likeable Media team to learn more!