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How social platforms are inspiring social change

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red and a passionate advocate of the good that marketing can do, working on social purpose and behaviour change projects for the past 10 years.

Attendees at this year’s Cannes Lions will have been left in no doubt as to the pre-eminence of social platforms in communications today. In addition to the Cannes Social Academy, there were two new awards for social in the Cyber Lions and social was a key platform in almost every award winning piece of work throughout the festival.

At the same time, there was an even bigger showing of work which aimed to deliver a wider social purpose. So big in fact that there have been some fairly robust calls to separate out social good from the more commercially minded work. An interesting debate in its own right and one which we will explore in this blog next month.

The proliferation of both social platforms and social good made me wonder whether this was more than just coincidence. There is inarguably something more immediate and more personal about social, which is why consumers have adopted it en masse (apparently averaging two hours a day just on social). And because consumers love it, brands love it too, with some making a very good fist of inhabiting that space. The winners here are causes or social good issues which are having huge impact through social channels and are being recognised for it too.

The brilliantly simple and captivating I Am a Witness campaign (Gold Lion, Social Purpose) from Goodby Silverstein and Partners drew on a socially originated behaviour (emoji use) to help people offer their support to victims of bullying. It is a campaign aimed at children that gives them a way to unify and show their intolerance for bullying in a simple, instant and highly social way.

P&Gs Go Ask Dad (Bronze Lion, FMCG) is a very commercial campaign with a message clearly rooted in social good. In many ways it sought to overturn the digital default and asked young men to go and ask their dad, rather than Google, about how to do things. The means to the end was a very clever use of social and SEO. It’s been viewed almost 7m times on YouTube, using a social platform to stop a very difficult to engage audience in their tracks with a highly relevant, thought-provoking message.

And our own work for NHS Blood and Transplant which we presented with Tinder at Cannes Health, juxtaposed the easiness of finding a match on Tinder with the terrifying odds of finding an organ donor match.

There are hundreds of other examples. Examples which have seen social be used to raise money, to change the way we think and feel about an issue, and most importantly to get people to take action – to mobilise people to bring about change.

In many ways this is not new stuff. Social media was used to facilitate and celebrate the overthrow of autocratic Governments in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011; and it’s widely known that extremist organisations across the globe have social media strategies that would shame most brands.

But why has social purpose (or anti-social purpose for that matter) found such a rich channel in social media? I think there are three key reasons:

1. We are our most transparent in social

Contrary to received wisdom that we create the idealised version of ourselves in social, we are in fact powerless to conceal ourselves. Through the content we read, the things we like, or connect with or share, we build a persona that even the savviest digital native would struggle to intentionally curate. This means that we can be targeted with information, products or causes that we are more likely to respond to. And in doing so we reinforce that persona still more.

2. We are more human in social

As we spend more of our time in social, and share more details of our life through it, we become more human. Brands that use social channels well can access users when they are in a whole range of emotional states. We don’t use social primarily to shop, we use it to celebrate and commiserate life. We are present in social when we are reflective, saddened, looking for reassurance or finding hope – and those very human states are useful if you are a cause needing to make a connection.

3. Social has ambassadors built in

Through no other channel will other people advocate your message. The social part is unique. Well not unique, because back in the nineties we had something called word of mouth (or analogue social you might call it). But It is tremendously powerful when talking about issues of social importance.

And this is perhaps the crux of why social platforms and social good have grown hand in hand at such a phenomenal rate. As much as brands, NGOs or governments have a role in making us care about an issue or topic, their role and their influence still pales in comparison to the influence of the people we love.

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red

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