Branding Social Change; The Persona of Change Through Social Media

El Lissitzky, 1929

The use of the words branding and social change in this title is not an attempt towards commercialization or to cheapen movements such as the Socialist Revolution, Women’s Suffrage, or Civil Rights Movement, but to more clearly identify how we are reaching individuals, giving expression, and creating the tribe around a movement.

The internet may be a phenomenon of our generation, but social change has utilized the benefits of branding since the invention of large format printing for posters during the Belle Époque era of the late 1800’s.  One of the greatest examples of branding social change of this kind is the Communist society’s use of previously banned modern art and movies as the perfect platform to attract, inform, and motivate the illiterate masses.

Not intended as a history lesson, I’ll fast forward to the current tides of social change: the uprising in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, The Tea Party. All have used social media as a conduit to the masses and each other, giving their own unique voice and persona that distinguishes them not only from each other but to the media.  This is where we come full circle.  This, my friend, is known as branding.

An adviser to small businesses and start-ups, Darcey launched the Solo-Preneur Success Program based on brand strategies and corporate citizenship platforms. Her work has been chronicled in The New York Times, Forbes, TIME, and AOL Online; she has keynoted at IBM, the SBA, MORE magazine Re-invention Convention, Staples, BDO Seidmans, T-Mobile, and on her own DVD “The Essential Guide.”

Occupying New York

For almost 7 weeks, New York has been the focal point for those frustrated in the country. The Economist has called Occupy Wall Street “America’s first social media movement,” and their followings on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are nothing to balk at. While never gaining Trending Topic status, #OccupyWallStreet has definitely been occupying social media. With over 100,000 followers on Twitter at @OccupyWallSt, it is gaining steam- with a little celebrity help from Susan Sarandon, Kanye West, Russell Simmons, and even a little satire from South Park. With all this, there has been quite the media coverage- and quite the outpouring of new groups joining the movement with US veterans being the latest group to join the movement. And the movement iscapitalized on social media for everything from donations to citizen reporting to education.

But what does all this mean? And what can businesses learn from this?
The prominence of Occupy Wall Street means corporations need to pay more attention.
Several corporations have found themselves at the ire of the movement- such as Citibank and Bank of America. Listening and being transparent are especially crucial at this moment. While Bank of America was put in the fire for its $5 debit card fee, other banks that were contemplating it abandoned plans after seeing public outrage. Despite losing potential revenue, they kept a better PR image than their friends at BoA.
Transparency and openness wins, especially if you relate to your audience.
One strong suit people are seeing is the transparency and openness of information regarding the movement. If one visits Zuccotti Park, there’s a Welcome Table with information available regarding how the movement handles donations and all monetary transactions and how you can join as a group of the movement. As a company, are you providing consumers with open information and helping build trust with your organization?

In addition the table has representatives who are a part of the media committee, a group trained in how to respond to media inquiries. Does your company help ensure that those on the front lines and interacting with consumers and media know how to communicate who your organization is? Are they attempting to be as helpful as possible?

Finally, the movement allows for various issues to have be featured and emphasizes that they are fighting for all in the USA. The camp has a Good Neighbor policy, ensuring all are safe and the impact to the surrounding community is minimized. Protesters are encouraged to civilly disobey and use peaceful methods of protests- drawing surprise from foreign media on the prevalence of peaceful and unifying tactics. By using slogans that are inclusive to even those that aren’t supportive, their message is more likely to be heard. Is your company working to include and explain your message to even the least desired consumer in your niche? Would your message isolate a segment of consumers? If so, is there a thought process behind why?
Social media organizes and conveys the message and next steps of Occupy Wall Street.
Protests are assembled via the Occupy Wall Street site- with the help of tech committee that builds and maintains it. Supporters of the movement are allowed to create their own hashtags, and the movement encourages supporters to upload their own images. The main accounts consistently repost and retweet user-generated content. Supporters feel they have a role and a voice in the movement, and the movement supports them. While Wall Street is organizing a “Social Media Day,” many feel it may not have the effect desired or bridge the communication gap between consumers and the financial sector. Keep in mind that social media is more than just putting out information- as this movement shows. Connecting requires an authentic desire to hear consumers and work with your audience. Does your company provide an outlet for consumers? Can they create their own discussions around your brand- with your support? Do you work with your consumers to hear what they need and provide service based on that?
The Occupy Wall Street camp is sustainable and resourceful.
Signs are made from available cardboard. When generators were removed due to safety concerns, they set up power bikes to generate electricity. Campers all take turns to cycle for energy to power for the entire camp. Food is composted. Rain water is used to grow food, provide energy and (after filtration) for drinking. Physical donations are encouraged to help supply items for warmth and clean clothing- they even created a registry of sorts for all the camps across the nation. The movement also utilizes its national network. While visiting, I learned several people had come down to help stake out with the camp from Maine. All in all, you see the movement intends to be as self-sustaining and responds quickly to set-backs, creating innovative solutions. How does your organization respond to disruptions? Does your team think outside the box? Are you thinking about the impact of your company and products on the local and global level?
Whether you support the movement or are annoyed by its presence- or don’t even care- there are lessons to be learned. Whether the movement lasts, it is important for every company and organization to keep in mind that social media now provides the opportunity for the public to share their voice, the good and the bad. People are empowered to create change and collaborate together for that change. In my opinion, it is becoming a great equalizer, giving people who would normally not have a platform or opportunity to share a way to do so. And that makes for an exciting future.