The Evolution of Social Cause Communication and the Players Who are Paving the Way
Social activism has been around for centuries, yet the way people engage in activist activities has evolved significantly over time. The emergence of the internet and digital technologies has made connecting with individuals all over the globe and spreading awareness for specific causes easier than ever.
The Rise of Social Media
Social cause movements have come an extremely long way since the days of protests, marches, and sit-ins. And while these are still largely used today and remain effective, the ability for organizations to utilize digital technology has vastly impacted social movements by giving them a multi-faceted platform. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now able to connect with people all over the world and spread their message with a click of a button. They can engage stakeholders without anyone ever having to leave their house. With the state of technology constantly changing daily, there are truly no limits in terms of how to share content. Social media sites make it easy to create beautifully visual videos and images, without needing special equipment. The live stream feature allows you to connect with audiences in real-time. There a multitude of ways to share impactful stories online and spread awareness of your cause, message, or movement.
Historically, most social movements stemmed from political issues, civil rights issues, and material demands such as income, housing, education, etc. A group of people who sought out change in a particular aspect of their lives would collectively get together to make a positive impact in their communities. However, with the prevalence of social media today, we’ve begun to see people joining causes and speaking up, and demanding change for movements that may not have anything to do with them. These can be referred to as ‘experience movements,’ where people have a fundamental emotional need to speak up on behalf of others. This could be seen as a positive in some aspects, but could also have negative outcomes.
Take for instance the Black Lives Matter movement that made major waves last year after the death of George Floyd. Social media sites were filled with content trying to spread awareness of the movement and calling for social justice. Tons of people who originally had no affiliation with the organization rallied together to share messages and visuals that supported the movement. Many posted a picture of a black square to show their support and solidarity, yet many saw this as an empty performative action and criticized some for not directly supporting, engaging, or educating themselves on the brutal history of systemic racism in this country. So, while these experience movements can allow you to gain traction with millions of people quickly, you could be cultivating people who aren’t really in support of your cause.
The World Wildlife Fund: Leading by Example in Social Cause Communications
Digital technologies, especially social media sites can be incredibly easy to learn and navigate for most. These resources are also free to use, so most companies and organizations utilize them in some capacity for marketing and advertising purposes. However, some organizations know how to strategically use social media to maximize their impact better than others.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been around since 1961, and they have had to follow the evolution of social change communication to stay relevant. I remember when I was in elementary school and I would see the legendary panda logo on books in the library, or on a good day, we’d watch a video in class that would talk about the importance of conserving the environment. However, as the world of technology evolves, and as I get older and change the ways I consume media and information, to continue to resonate with me as an adult like they did when I was in grade school, the WWF needed to expand into the digital world even more than before.
I think the WWF has done a fantastic job with their online presence by creating visually beautiful, yet informative, engaging, and simple content to continue to drive their mission home to invested followers. They are extremely active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. They also send out digital newsletters to keep supporters informed and provide ways to get more involved with the organization.
The WWF has also used the power of social media, particularly Instagram, to single-handedly give a reason for cause in a single picture. They frequently post beautiful photographs capturing the rare and captivating beauty of our world, and then simply use these images as a reason to learn more about how we can protect the environment and live a more sustainable lifestyle. To me, this simple tactic is genius because they don’t even need to come out and ask for support, they are just showing you something beautiful so that you will want it to remain that way, and automatically you are invested in the cause.
The WWF social campaign messaging is always simple, yet engaging. In my opinion, if a company or organization is not utilizing social media as a social cause communications tactic, they are truly missing the opportunity to stay relevant and engage as many audiences as they can to drum up support and begin to accomplish the change they want to see.