Generating ideas, connections, and action

Triggering Collaborative Action through Social Media


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Social media is changing the way people interact with each other. As Clay Shirky suggests, social media and networks enable people to share, converse, collaborate, and in some cases, engage in collaborative action.  And while collaborative action is not widely popular yet, it is where the future is headed (Clay Shirky 2008). 

I agree with his prediction, primarily because I have experienced the power of social media and networks; but also because I believe that if we channel our energies as a group we can make a difference on a larger scale.  At the Leadership Learning Community, we are currently exploring how networks can help advance a new leadership model that is more collective and connected.  We believe this new model will be better equipped to deal with the complex issues of our society.  As we continue to explore the relationship between networks and leadership, the idea of triggering collective action through networks becomes essential. So I want to share one of my favorite examples of how social media was put to work for a social change cause, and why I think it was successful.  Even though this is an older example, I think it truly represents what collaborative action means in this ‘2.0 world’.

Early last year, shortly after the FARC, Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, had released a group of hostages, I contacted a friend through Facebook to ask her what things were like in Colombia – being from Colombia myself, I was deeply frustrated by the whole situation.  I noticed on her profile that she was a member of a group called “One Million Voices Against the FARC.”  The title caught my attention and I decided to join because I wanted to connect with others around this issue.  I wasn’t the only one– shortly after being created with 20 members, the group grew to over 900 members and the number tripled every day after that ( 2008). But the group didn’t stop there; it went on to make history in the social networking world by organizing anti-FARC walks of unprecedented scale.  On February of 2008, millions of people participated in marches in major cities of Colombia and across the world (New York Times 2008).

Why 2008? Why didn’t this happen before?  The issue of the FARC is not new, yet Colombia didn’t have a huge history of mass demonstrations – until then.  Here are some things that, in my opinion, contributed to the success of this event:

  1. Timing: the group was organized in response to a recent event – the release of hostages.  This created a sense of urgency.
  2. Younger Audience: Facebook’s reach into the younger demographic reinvigorated the movement. 
  3. Balance between Local and Global: the group focused on aggregating a critical mass of people all over the world, and organizing local events.
  4. Self-organizing: while one person had the initiative to create the group in the first place, many were inspired and volunteered to organize the march in their local area.
  5. Call to Action: the group focused its efforts on organizing the march, so people had a sense of clarity.
  6. Simplicity: the proposition was clear – to not only voice resistance against the FARC but to take action.
  7. Emotional Appeal:  in a country with such high emigration, the proposition was compelling for many because it represented a way to express resistance and frustration, even while living abroad.
  8. Shared Identity: Facebook allows people to see what other members of their personal network belong to a particular group, establishing a sense of shared identity that may transcend the online realm.

Triggering collaborative action is not easy, and I’m sure there are many other factors missing in that list; but when this type of action does happen, it has the potential to transform individuals, groups and even societies.  In this particular example, the march helped raise the profile of the issue to an international level, and the group or application continues to be a driving force for information and connections around the issue. 

What other examples can you share? What other factors need to be in place to achieve this high level of engagement?  We would love to hear your ideas.

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