Shocktivism — Cause based viral messages

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Remember the KONY 2012 viral ads? Essentially, the campaign tried to get awareness, and later, political action, through a series of posts and other social media sites that linked to a documentary by Jason Russell about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group that involuntarily recruited child soldiers and enacted various attrocities.

Maybe a more common example is the "Occupy Wall Street" phenomenon and the other "Occupy" movements that followed. "Occupy" came into existence in the physical world through a series of viral activism messages that catalyzed a movement by protesters across the country. The message of both "Occupy" and "Kony 2012" grew distorted and confused as the viral messaging spread, but the initial movements both are considered a social success.

Cause-based viral messaging has exploded in recent years because of the global market it reaches. No longer regarding local issues, activist groups and organizations, along with private citizens and companies, can try to promote global change through mediums like Youtube, Facebook, and memes. The broad audience allows for a larger potential group of supporters, but it also creates a more discerning audience of potential activists.

Some shocktivists have taken a more subversive approach to how they get their message across. One animal rights group, for instance, realized that they could not get people to willing turn their attention away from silly viral videos- like "Charlie Bit My Finger" and "Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That"- to pay attention to videos about the declining population of rhinos in the Near East. Rhinos were being continuously killed for their horns, which are used in folk remedies, and the group wanted to build support for their organization. Instead of competing with the silliness by trying to one-up viral videos, they did something known as video splicing. They would repost the videos under the original title, but splice images of the rhinos being killed, along with their message, 1 minute into the videos. As a result, they got their message across to an audience that would never be aware of the issue otherwise.

Shocktivism, in part, requires a shock. The audience you target should be one that generally would not be aware of the cause you are supporting. The hope is that, by placing your cause’s viral message on a site with a broad demographic, you "shock" or amaze viewers into being enraged and taking action.

Effective shocktivism campaigns have a few different components. First, they must have a broad appeal, and must be targeted first and foremost at young viewers. The people most likely to sign online petitions and to galvanize for grass roots movements are young adults. They are also the most likely to "share" these messages to friends and family. Next, the message has to be posted in an easy to access, heavily trafficked place, and must be posted at a key time- if you post it during too busy a time, the message can get lost in the shuffle. If you post it when no one is going online, it won’t get seen. Finally, you need to do follow up. Make your message unique and easily recognized. These tactics will help you to get your message out to the world and effect real, tangible change.

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