The Role of Social Media in Protests and Social/Political Change

I’ve had social media on my mind quite a bit lately. It’s hard not to with all the headlines of the current GOP escapades. People are in an uproar, and to combat their frustration, they’re turning to social media to unite. Regardless of your political beliefs, from a social/political standpoint, that’s impressive. This isn’t the first time people have used social media to change the landscape, nor do I believe it will be the last. Clay Shirky gives powerful examples of how citizens are synchronizing groups to effect change in government.

How Did Social Organization Work Before Social Media?

Today’s generation hasn’t experienced life without social media or the Internet—but sites like Facebook, MySpace and others were just evolving and inching along less than a decade ago. Now people access the Internet to share what they’re doing and to check up on their friends. What was life like before these developments?

  • Then: The Internet was primarily to check your email and mobile phones were for, believe it or not, just talking and sending messages. People met together physically, and had face-to-face conversations in social environments and spent less time on the web.
  • Today: Phones have become the most popular device for staying connected to social networks and these devices are used to interact rather than socializing in person.
  • Then: Businesses spent their resources on the traditional mediums like TV, radio and print to advertise their products and services. Meanwhile, public figures and celebrities relied on professional public relation services/agents to get their brand and image out to the public.
  • Today: Businesses regularly spend exorbitant amounts of money to study social networks and develop online media campaigns. Employees use ever-increasing company time online and celebrities use social media tools to stay in touch with fan bases and build viral awareness.

Does Social Media Works

Certainly it takes more than a website or a profile on a social network to create results, doesn’t it? Absolutely. However, there are some specific reasons why social media works:

  • People connect to you because they want to hear from you. This is a conscious, voluntary decision on their part, and that’s important. They clicked something to connect to you, in effect, send me more information. Just think about this for a moment. When did 600 people ever show up on your front doorstep, wanting to hear what you had to say?
  • You’re posting information that you want to share with others. This is key, in that like attracts like, and when you have something of interest and share it, others are more likely to listen. Why? Because you’re giving them something that makes you feel good, rather than a pitch. This in turn, makes it more likely that they will share the information with others. Thus social media becomes a tool to build your reputation and client/customer base.
  • The dynamics of social media allow you to reach beyond your current connections. The best part about this is you don’t have to pay a single penny for it. The very nature of the technology is based on sharing, being viral in application and result. Twitter is the best example of this. You tweet a link, which catches the interest of a friend, and they re-tweet it to 100 of their friends. Someone from that group re-tweets again, which reaches 1,000 friends, which goes out to 10,000 friends…and it continues to grow.
  • One of the most powerful uses that I can see for social media is creating social proof. In a world where we have relied on the written word, there’s always that tinge of doubt…is that real or manufactured? When you read a testimony from someone you’re connected to—it’s easier to authenticate.

How Social Media Is Working To Bring About Social/Political Change

As people, we prefer to act in groups. The fact is, if we want change, we have to do it together—and when we see groups forming in causes we agree with, we’re more likely to join them. With the right words and information, powerful issues can become a feeding frenzy for the digital mob. With social media—mobilization and coordination are at your fingertips.

As Shirky so clearly points out, social media has allowed citizens “to be more publicly vocal and to coordinate more rapidly and on a larger scale than before these tools existed.”

Tyler is a professional writer for

Featured photo provided courtesy of ajbear.

Filed in: Feature Articles, Reputation Management, Social Media
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