Gladwell, Digital Activism and Social Media Marketing

by Kate Brodock on 8 October 2010

Posted in: From the Field,Random Thoughts

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Last weekend I wrote a reaction piece on Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article about his lazy analysis of digital activism.  It made me think about the many parallels between the social media marketing and digital activism fields.

In general, digital activism is following the same path that social media marketing has followed at a much slower pace.

This is natural, since marketing is a field driven by things like ROI, success rate, strategic planning and is done by “professionals.”  Digital activism is not even so much a field (although some of us are pushing it in that direction) and there has only recently been a focus on what numbers mean, what success is, and what some possible long-term strategies could be.

Strategy has been on a case-by-case basis, and has been limited, but is being focused

In part due to the often localized goals and decentralized nature of digital activist campaigns, and partly due to the fact that budgets are seldom tied to results, the planning process of digital activism as compared to that of social media marketing has been extremely abbreviated.  With the heightened passion and quick (often spontaneous) actions of digital activist campaigns, strategic planning was slow to develop and sometimes hard to execute and predict (from a mobilization and results standpoint), whereas in social media marketing – at least the successful kind – actions are definitively tied to goals, which are tied to strategy, which is tied to campaign management and so on.

This process is starting to become more robust in the digital activism space, and with every new use of digital technology on the ground there becomes more opportunity for development of long-term strategy options.

Measurement has been sporadic and unfocused, but is now getting more purposeful

Because of the grassroots nature of digital activism, the process that occurs is very “action yields result” oriented… as in whatever action takes place is analyzed by activists according to whether or not their desired social/political/etc change occurred.  From a practioners standpoint, there was often little reason to look at the numbers during or after the fact.  In marketing, even if it’s just so you can report results to stakeholders and show them a positive ROI, measurement was not only inevitable, but crucial.

There has only been a recent focus on what exactly the numbers mean, and how they can be applied to end goals, but again, it’s moving in that direction.

Let’s think about the development of social media marketing as we assess digital activism.

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