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My name's Joel Kelly and I live in Halifax, NS.

I'm a 20something guy doing digital and social media strategy for a Halifax-based marketing agency.

I'm a vegan nerd and marketing asshole.

You should follow me on Twitter.

Contact me about whatever (like, say, your marketing questions) at

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Does tweeting lead to more action or less?

So at last night's Third Wednesday we discussed social media for social activism. Or, more accurately, if doing things like joining Facebook groups or tweeting about a cause even counts as activism.

The discussion was kicked off by some great points by Allison. She suggested that, well, tweeting is lazy and it doesn't really accomplish much by itself, but it's better than nothing.

The discussion was fairly animated, with lots of different points and points of view.

Here's where I stand, and I'd love to hear what you think:

Ala Clay Shirky's points about social media and action, I think that the more people you make aware, the more people you'll have actually do something. This is because you're always only ever going to have a small percentage of people willing to get off their asses. But, if you make tons and tons and tons of people aware (like, by tweeting) that small percentage will amount to a fairly large number of people. So, if only 1% of people who are aware will take action, it's better if there are tons and tons of people aware. So, in that sense, tweeting can help.

BUT: '"Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed," writes Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. "Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a 'premature sense of completeness.'"' Link.

So, does tweeting count as doing something or talking about something? Does this mean that some or many of the people who tweet about a cause have made themselves less likely to actually do something, because now they feel like they already have?

But wouldn't people who are likely to get off their asses feel that tweeting isn't enough even if they do send out a couple just to tell other people?

I think I'd still suggest that more awareness could likely lead to more action. Yes, talking about something might make some people less likely to do something, but it would probably make a larger group more interested in taking action. Yes, I just used the words, think, likely, might, and probably.

What do you think?

Image from flickr user Petteri Sulonen


Ben said...

I still maintain that the power of Twitter, blogs and other social media tools is in its ability to leverage the credibility and authority of others.

Basically having a friend suggest that you donate to help a starving animal will be more compelling and more relevant to you than having PETA try to cram animal rights down your throat.

Yes, Twitter raises awareness and can facilitate discussion and pass around, but when it comes to action its strength is in its way of presenting information from sources that you relate to rather than corporate messaging from a faceless spokesperson.

Heather said...

Well, there's motivating oneself, and there's motivating others. If I want to create awareness around a cause in hopes that a percentage of the recipients will act, Twitter seems an obvious choice. But if I want to motivate myself to go for a run, Twitter might be less effective - unless I'm a really externally motivated person! (Surprised that the article you linked to didn't mention internal vs. external motivation)

Thanks for the post, interesting topic!

Joel Kelly said...

Great points Ben. So someone who's likely to take action is more influenced to actually do it by their peers rather than the media or some other public pressure?

Heather: Very good point!

Jeff Bishop (@jbish) said...

Social media, like all social activities is about one thing - the relationship(s).

Every conversation I enter on the value/benefit of social media (or its parts, like Twitter, FB etc.) - all lead to the same point. We humans need relationships. We need to be social, and social media is a tool that expands and enhances our social relationships.

Like Ben mentions, when a friend (or a celebrity in some cases...'cause that's why they use 'em) says to get involved in a certain movement, is much more compelling. WoMM still leads us to make all kinds of decisions - from activism to retail purchases, because of the power of relationships.

Joel Kelly said...

Jeff: Yeah, and I guess that still means that you have to have been likely to do something anyway, and all that conversation just nudges you in that direction?

Can it really be said that reading a bunch of tweets actually compels someone to take action they were unlikely to in the first place? (obligatory Devil's Advocate)

Gifted Typist said...

I think "talk" is good for awareness, but "talk" is also cheap. Social media is mostly "talk" - not activism but passivism

A cause - whether Darfur or Iran election - needs a goal and a way to measure it.

Once you set out to achieve the goal then you engage in activism.

The example that comes to mind is
Ben and Alias Grace's Dachshund drive. Their goal was to raise X dollars for a cause. They used an on-line donation application and then Twitter and FB to promo the cause. I believe they were successful AND they had a way to measure the effectiveness of social media.

Ben said...

Right. I wasn't going to self-plug here but since Gifted Typist started it...

First we made the process to donate beyond easy. Have a credit card and three clicks of the mouse? Then you can donate.

Second, we capitalized on our personal relationships. YOU might not think about rescued animals on a daily basis, but you know that it's something that's important to me. Suddenly it becomes more real and personal to you because of our friendship.

(No jokes. We're friends. YOU CAN'T TAKE THAT BACK!)

Third, we asked people to spread the word through many means but including Twitter. All of a sudden they start connecting with their friends to donate rather than the much harder task of us - as strangers - trying to convince them to pony up.

Would you have donated money to an animal shelter this year if I hadn't suggested that you did? Well...who knows. But there are a lot of people who wouldn't have.

Is it Twitter the tool that makes activism easier? No. It's the relationships and personal connections through Twitter that help activism come to life online.

Joel Kelly said...

Gifted Typist: Good point!

Ben: Pretty spot on. I would not have donated to an animal shelter if you guys hadn't done D4D, and I'm sure a bunch of other people wouldn't have either.

Twitter expands our ability to connect with people, and therefore lets us exploit (I mean that in the nicest sense) those relationships. Rad.

Jeff Bishop (@jbish) said...

Joel: Not sure it would compel someone to do something they wouldn't normally do...but more that it informs them of something not on their 'ever-day radar' - e.x., your donation to D4D.

Having said that - the social aspect - or peer pressure if you will - no doubt does compel some in to action, especially the physically easier actions like greening your Twitter avatar or putting the Livestrong band on your avatar.

Joel Kelly said...

So then the question is: Does donate money amount to social change?

We can all donate money to some charity dedicated to getting fair elections in Iran. What will that do?

Mitchell McKenna said...

Personally talking about things help gets them done. You hear others opinions and can build on them. I start thinking about it more and get more excited about it.

One of the best examples of this I think is

Joel Kelly said...

Mitchell: Hmm, great example.