Social Media for a Social Change
What started off with a small group of people protesting against economic inequality and social greed in New York City has now turned into a growing, global movement. While some people are drawing an analogy to Tahrir Square, the Anti-Wall Street protests clearly highlight how important social media can be. With demonstrations being held outside financial institutions and federal banks from LA to Boston, the protesters have taken to social media, hoping for a social change. From Twitter hashtags that are being used to spread the word, to Facebook posts and countless YouTube videos, the movement continues to gain mileage every day. Unlike a few years ago, when protests and campaigns briefly grabbed the attention of the world via traditional channels, only to fade away with time, the real-time nature of social media has changed the way campaigns are organized and broadcasted. Here's a brief overview of how social media expanded the reach of the campaign that began with a few dozen demonstrators camping in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE):
- July 13, 2011: The Adbusters magazine posted a call to Occupy Wall Street on their blog.
- Following the protests outside NYSE on September 17, people took to various networking sites to further garner support for their cause; this saw the emergence of additional support groups like 'Occupy Chicago', 'Occupy Boston', 'Occupy Philadelphia' etc.
- Within a few weeks, the leaderless protests witnessed +200 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts emerge, urging volunteers to join the movement in their respective cities.
- The Occupy Wall Street Facebook page currently boasts +200,000 'likes' and has over 123,000 people talking about it on the networking site.
- The increasing Facebook updates and likes, as well as the Twitter hashtags and handles, were just the beginning. The digital space is flooded with videos featuring dozens of demonstrations that were held around the world on October 15th, taking the campaign to a global level.
- As the OWS movement arrived at the one month milestone (on October 17th, 2011), the number of 'Occupy' Facebook pages overreached geographical barriers, with the Occupy the London Stock Exchange, Occupy Brazil, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Sydney and Occupy Tokyo pages propping up.
- Users also joined Meetup.com and Foursquare to find like-minded people and to organize protests.
- Whether it was capturing Julian Assange's remarks to protesters in London, or the violence that broke out during a large rally in Rome, the protesters shared with the world, in real-time, everything that was happening in their cities.
The 'Occupy' Movement: Tracking the Social Media Buzz
Analysis (for the time period between 17th September 2011 and 17th October 2011) by the Brand Monitor Team at Position² indicates a gradual build-up in conversation volumes. The protests then gained steam, with the highest buzz registered on 6th October 2011 (33,347), followed by 32,875 posts registered on 3rd October.
Overall Media Sources Breakdown
- Of the 449,561 total posts, discussion forums recorded the maximum conversation volumes at 33%.
- This was followed by blogs at 26%, with people taking to various blogging platforms including Tumblr to talk about problems ranging from unemployment to social inequality.
- Twitter, which established itself as a crucial social media tool for communicating about the movement, also registered considerable buzz at 22%. While #OccupyWallStreet is one of the commonly used hashtags, other hashtags like #revolution, #ows, #99percent, #OccupyPhilly etc significantly contributed to the social media buzz and accelerated the rate at which conversations travelled across the digital space.
- When compared to other channels, the buzz on Facebook was not as much (2%). However, the 9,263 Facebook posts included not just pages from USA, but also from other countries from across the world. Perhaps one of the reasons for the negligible Facebook traffic could be the users' concern about the reaction from their employers.
Top Country Breakdown
- Since USA was where it all started, it came as no surprise to see the maximum buzz (84%) registered here. Frustrated US citizens, especially the unemployed Americans and those belonging to the lower socio-economic class were rather vocal in their opinion about how the banks were making all the money (the 1%), while the rest (the 99%) were deprived of their basic rights.
- This was followed by countries like Canada and UK, which accounted for 4% and 3% of the conversations respectively.
- Further analysis shows that New York, where the initial demonstrations began, registered the highest conversation volumes at 34,284.
- This was followed by Massachusetts (3.941) and Washington (2,828).
Gender and Age Distribution
- At 65%, the men were more active in conversations pertaining to the anti-Wall Street protests when compared to women (35%).
- The +65 age group was not vocal about their thoughts and opinions (0%). We attribute their silence to the fact that this age bracket, which mostly comprised of the retired population, was not as concerned about day-to-day financial issues as the <65 population was.
- The 20-35 age bracket was the most vocal at 34%. This demographic largely comprises of those who are either already employed or those who are looking to start their careers. Therefore, it is unsurprising that they were highly opinionated about the financial institutions and banks.
- This was closely followed by the 36-50 age bracket, at 26%.
When it started nearly a month back, the Occupy Wall Street Movement was a nation-wide campaign that witnessed American citizens protesting against various issues ranging from corporate greed to the influence of corporate money on government. Within a matter of few days, the campaign that had caught on the social media bug, rapidly spread, conveying the message of the frustrated '99%' to the rest of the world. Despite the recent arrests, the Anti-Wall street protests are showing no signs of slowing down. Social networking channels like Facebook and Twitter, along with Tumblr blogs and numerous videos are functioning as communication tools, breaking geographical barriers and giving a global voice to the campaign.
As the above analysis indicates, USA registered the highest volume of social media conversations. However, the movement has only just started to spread abroad. While Greece is poised to join the 'Occupy' campaign, Spain is amongst the recent countries to have expressed their solidarity. With country-specific hashtags and Facebook pages being created every day, it is only a matter of time before we see online traffic pick up in different parts of the world. Although some people who are concerned about reactions from their employers decided to keep a low-profile on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and discussion forums are abuzz with conversations, where opinions are exchanged, videos are uploaded and updates are shared.
Whether it is the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Women2Drive campaign, it is evident that how powerful social media can be. The last few years have witnessed a change in how and why social media channels are used. What initially started as a fad is evolving into a tool for bringing about social change. What we do know is that social media as a communication tool is something that cannot be ignored. As for the Anti-Wall Street protests, we are eager to see how influential social media can be in bringing about a social change.