The era of social media as a mobilisation tool
Publish Date: Jun 11, 2014
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By Doris Acheng Odit

Recently, as I was scrolling through my twitter timeline, I stumbled upon an illustration by a cartoonist that particularly piqued my interest.

It had all these people in an apartment building, each in their own apartment, tweeting about this and that, and calling on action from their governments about this and that, and the caption had a tagline insinuating that people had become too lazy to take real action on pertinent social issues and were instead sitting in their confortable houses and thinking that tweeting about something, or posting a brief line about a social issue on a social network is enough to effect change, and influence policy.

And yet, despite the cartoonist’s insinuation, I would like to think that perhaps the so called “lazy” 140 character long tweet that I post on saving endangered tigers, while in the comfort of my living room, perhaps even while sipping a cup of aromatic coffee, does indeed make a difference in the life of a tiger somewhere in the Indian jungle.

I would like to think that my so called “lazy” tweet is setting a ball in motion that will lead to more tweets, more debate on the issue online, hence more debate on the issue by technocrats, and that perhaps somewhere down the line, what started off as a lazy tweet will lead to policy change.

And at an era where social networks have more users than any one country has citizens, it is evident that the people power now rests in the hands of the modern day social network.

Case in point being the popularisation of the Arab Spring of 2011 through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, a campaign that was able to bring down well established structures; or the very recent #BringBackOurGirls social network campaign that made the plight of the 200 Nigerian girls abducted by the Islamist militants-BokoHaram, and the push for the facilitation of release of the girls a matter of international priority at what I opine, was a supersonic and expeditious mobilisation speed; to the #BringBackAJStaff campaign that saw thousands of journalists and well-wishers worldwide go to twitter to express their concern over the treatment of AlJazeera journalists that were arrested in Egypt for allegedly siding with the outlawed Muslim brotherhood group.

We also cannot forget the very own Ugandan #BuyABrick #BuildADorm campaign, that led to massive donations by Ugandans on social media which went towards building a dormitory for an Orphanage.

Hence, the power of social media and the ability and effectiveness of social mobilisation through social networking sites cannot be underestimated; neither can its potential be ignored. The implications of the emerging influence of social media are numerous, depending on what side of the spectrum you are in.

For non-governmental organisations, and charity based institutions, the growing potential for fundraising for charity campaigns is like a bottomless pit of untapped opportunity. As such, charity organisations need to re-conceptualise their fundraising strategies and align them to include social media fundraising campaigns.

Forget about those little fundraising dinners where only 50 guests show up, or the pretty little print out flyers that few will have the patience to read, let alone have access to, or the heavily worded fundraising webpage on your websites that few will bother looking up,-the new age of effective social mobilisation, in terms of scope, reach, and impact, is effective use of social media!

The same goes for commercial based organisations, traditional forms of marketing have their place, but to neglect the potential of social media sites, in creating awareness of a brand or product, or in creating an interactive relationship with consumers, or customers, is indeed an unwise decision.

It is like the cartoonist mentioned at the onset who thinks that a tweet makes no difference, or having potential consumers follow your social network page doesn’t matter- Wishful thinking, If you ask me, wishful thinking that could cost the survival of a company, or for charity organisations, the success-level of a fundraising campaign.

The writer is a management and ICT consultant



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