Am­pli­fied activism

‘Every­one is an ac­tivist.’ Is this merely a slo­gan for the ‘slack­tivism’ era or re­flec­tive of an age in which em­ploy­ees not only have a voice but also the abil­ity to use it to dis­man­tle ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions one In­sta­gram post at a time, Ni­cola Kemp asks

Campaign UK - - CONTENTS -

Are we all now ac­tivists in an era when so­cial me­dia has given every­one a voice?

Activism has be­come a main­stream pur­suit. A new era of peo­ple-pow­ered trans­parency is chal­leng­ing how busi­nesses com­mu­ni­cate with staff and con­sumers alike. In­di­vid­u­als’ am­pli­fied voices are re­ver­ber­at­ing, as em­ploy­ees em­power them­selves and ed­u­cate their em­ploy­ers in the process. From the #Metoo move­ment to the nascent im­pact on legacy HR sys­tems from apps such as vir­tual wa­ter­cooler Fish­bowl, the dis­par­ity be­tween what a brand or busi­ness says it stands for and the ex­pe­ri­ences of its em­ploy­ees and con­sumers is be­com­ing im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Activism is a tool through which con­sumers can de­fine them­selves and process the world around them, and it is a shift to which es­tab­lished busi­nesses are strug­gling to adapt. In­deed, the power of this new breed of col­lec­tive activism is only just be­gin­ning to be un­der­stood by brands. Sairah Ash­man, global chief ex­ec­u­tive of Wolff Olins, says that un­til fairly re­cently, con­sumerism was de­fined from a sense of self and place, but now it is founded on activism. She ex­plains: “The line be­tween who we are at home and who we are at work is in­vis­i­ble, with a gen­eral shift away from as­sert­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ity to ex­press­ing au­then­tic­ity.” At the same time, so­cial me­dia pro­vides the per­fect plat­form to or­gan­ise and in­flu­ence at scale and speed. “Enough on­line protests and ‘likes’ can help bring down in­sti­tu­tions and busi­nesses,” Ash­man adds. “Do­ing this from the com­fort of your sofa or a cof­fee shop isn’t lazy if it’s ef­fec­tive.”

Con­nected activism

Crit­ics have of­ten dis­missed this fresh gen­er­a­tion of ac­tivists as “slack­tivists” – a click-bait crit­i­cism, which ob­scures the com­plex, cre­ative and col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of this new wave. Ac­cord­ing to re­search find­ings in a re­cent JWT In­tel­li­gence Re­port, two out of three mil­len­ni­als be­lieve that a per­son who has be­come aware of an is­sue and then spreads the word on­line is able to cre­ate more real change than a per­son on the street ral­ly­ing and protest­ing. An­other rea­son cries of “slack­tivism” fall short is that they pre­sume the choice con­sumers face is a bi­nary one, when, in re­al­ity, the art of the street is be­ing hugely am­pli­fied by so­cial chan­nels, with the two in­creas­ingly in­ter­locked. The protest poster, for ex­am­ple, has found a vi­brant new chan­nel on In­sta­gram.

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