Activism, Accelerated

January 30, 2023

group of activists outside a government building group of activists outside a government building

By Laura Sutphen, Managing Director, Social Impact + Inclusion 

A Rally Cry for Active Change 

From the racial uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, to the 2022 landmark decision change on Roe v. Wade, the last few years have seen a rise in social issues catalyzing culture around deeper activism. And while tried and true tactics  marches, rallies, fundraising, brands launching cause marketing campaigns  have continued, there’s been a sharp uptick in citizens using digital strategies to push for social and environmental change. Digital activism is rising because it works  it’s fast, it enables more effective communication by citizen movements that is in real time, it’s safer, and it is not location bound.  

What to Expect 

We expect 2023 to be an explosive year for digital activism, and from generations that go beyond (read as: younger) digital natives. 

Activism on social media has included foundational elements such as promoting awareness of social justice issues and showing solidarity using hashtags, posts, and campaigns. But activists will get more creative and more multi-dimensional, creating marches and moments made more powerful and more effective with digital technology. The COP27 climate conference action by Tuvalu, an island nation in the South Pacific, is a great example, when it announced plans to upload itself into the metaverse as a “digital twin,” with a goal to save the country’s culture and preserve its maritime shores as rising sea levels threaten to submerge it. And movements such as BLM, #MeToo, and #LoveWins continue to show how to galvanize diverse communities to not just rally around an important cause, but create powerful and emotional community that celebrates, uplifts, and bonds. Younger generations will reach up to less digitally native communities to engage them with the energy and tone of the 1960s to fight for human and women’s rights, safely march for gun control and environmental justice, and in doing so will connect people in ways “IRL” marches cannot. 

How Brands Can Win 

Digital activism is fuel for change and an inclusive way to rally people around meaningful causes which reflect brand values and commitments, when done with proper care. 

  • Be as nimble as the platform. The reason digital activism is effective is because it moves faster than IRL campaigns or marches can. Don’t drown in multiple rounds of internal approvals and message precision – move as nimbly as the online movement or you’ll be left behind. 
  • Activate digitally, follow through concretely. Don’t forget to ground digital activism with a call to action that is tangible, hyperlocal, and transparent. 
  • Activism, not slacktivism. Without specific offline follow through, digital activism execution can look and feel performative and increase the chances of being called out for ‘slacktivism’ – feel good marketing posing as thoughtful social impact commitment. Brands who want to engage here must be wholly authentic, clear, and specific with follow up and follow through beyond a one-off. 
  • Don’t dilute the mission. Your digital activism does not also need a 360 earned media cycle. Just like a good activist, stay focused on the mission of (social/environmental/human) change and the medium of (online/social/email/digital) execution, and let the earned headlines rest.  
  • Remember the power of subcultures. Keep in mind that there is nuance to activist audience and how to draw them in, and the intersectionality with subcultures and the audiences that they’re speaking to. This starts with the leaders of a movement who push the initial message forward. It extends to the voices of these overlapping subcultures of inclusive audiences, and they can be anywhere from micro level influencers to mid-macro tier influencers. And it’s amplified by macro/mega force multipliers, the inclusive allies, the message boosters who can turn a moment into a movement.  

Why it Matters 

Golin’s Justice for All survey showed that 92 percent of C-suite leaders believe it’s more important than ever for companies to lead in solving systemic issues in society, which is an invitation for brands to get engaged. Today, words mean nothing, and actions are everything. And if your brand doesn’t stand for something, it looks like it stands for nothing. Social issues are galvanizing people in ways not previously seen in history, and these issues are becoming more visceral and blending into daily life. Digital activism is going to make social movements and ways to act more efficient, free and focused, making it an optimal place to modernize social impact campaigns or find ways to create meaningful change in new and more dynamic mediums.  

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