Originally posted on Harvard Business Review
Given last week's election results, it's a good time to think about movements. Wikipedia defines a social movement as "A coordinated group action focused on a political or social issue." That allows for quite a spectrum of movements. The civil rights movement was designed to bring equality to a system where it was it was lacking. President Obama's campaign had many movement-like qualities. Most recently the Tea Party movement proved that when they gain momentum, they're hard to ignore forces. Indeed, the Tea Party led to a counter movement, The Coffee Party, that first appeared on Facebook.
Movements can be desirable weapons in the war to influence behavior, but you need to understand how they work. They are not the same as a major advertising blitz or everyday communication initiatives. The key difference is participation. An ad campaign is something you do to people. A movement is something people choose to do. Can you harness the power of a movement in your business? The following is a basic anatomy of what makes a movement successful.
Ripple Effects. Movements are exceptionally prone to contagious behaviors and assets. Often, it starts with a single piece of communication, an e-mail or blog post, which is sent to one group of people and shared with hundreds, then thousands, then millions of others. Ripple effects in movements spread ideas and make the movement itself viral, but it can be hard to predict what communication will make that first ripple.
Decentralization, Organization & Values. Effective movements are often grassroots ones, but that doesn't mean that they're disorganized. The Tea Party has no single leader but it it's organized digitally well enough to spur rallies across the country. Boy Scouts is another organization with a de-centralized and hyper-local infrastructure. Den leaders ensure that scouts partake in events and do the things needed to achieve status within the organization. In addition to the organic infrastructure, The Boy Scouts embody a crystal clear value system: "To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." This value system drives nearly all activities and acts as a "master narrative" for the organization.
Sustainable Chatter. The difference between something that's just viral and a movement is that a movement's chatter has to be sustainable beyond initial, passing curiosity. People may gather around a water cooler to discuss happenings on their favorite shows or perhaps the performance of a sports team but it doesn't make these fleeting events a movement. Sustainable chatter may ebb and flow but it's always there. Think of it as buzz on steroids.
Advocacy. Movements are fueled by participants who believe in them strongly enough to volunteer their advocacy. They're the idea champions. The initial Obama campaign successfully created advocates by the millions through activating youth and minority voters along with tapping into the shared values of Democrats and independent voters who embraced both the message and the momentum.
Critical Mass. At some point, movements become unstoppable. Years ago Dell Computer found itself facing a movement against its service. A negative blog post that used the phrase "Dell Hell" helped the anti-Dell movement reach critical mass and damage Dell's reputation. Dell had to respond by launching its own counter movement in the form of a corporate cultural overhaul. The company now boasts a small army of social media savvy corporate ambassadors. Critical mass often leads to the measurable objectives of a movement whether it's the implementation of legislature, awareness around an issue or a desired behavior which aligns with the goals of the movement.
Movements are powerful and there's no doubt they work. But they can also be rare and complex as they combine planning with spontaneity. So can you create one either within or outside of your organization? Of course you can, but like any movement they sometimes start underground and they always need a spark to ignite them. There are two questions which need to be answered in the creation of any movement: What needs to change? And what is the spark needed for ignition? Find the answers to those and you've taken the first step toward change.