Tawanda Mashava

All things, without fear, and informational

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Social Media Technologies and Activism in Zimbabwe: A Success (and a Failure) Story

A few days ago, I was watching an episode of Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa’s new self-entitled show, ‘Ruvheneko’ where she was interviewing political activists like Maureen Kademaunga of #SheVotes2018 and Promise Mkwananzi of #Tajamuka and two other leaders of largely unknown political parties, and they were later joined by two comedians; Carl Joshua Ncube, arguably Zimbabwe’s favorite and most known comedian, and Madam Boss, another Zimbabwean comedian.

Towards the end of the show, the discussion centered on Social Media and its role and effectiveness in advocacy and activism. There is an ongoing debate in Zimbabwe on whether Social Media technologies are effective means of activism, and articles have been written with some totally against the idea of using Social Media whilst others, like Promise, Carl and Maureen, believe the use of Social Media is key to any advocacy or activism issue.

I have worked with several local and international non-profit and civil society organizations in their digital strategies, and I have seen that using Social Media tactfully is more effective than many other popular traditional ways of advocacy and activism; the keyword there being ‘tactfully’. In this piece, I will give one example of how Social Media was used effectively in Zimbabwe, and one in which there was no strategy behind the use of social media, despite attracting hundreds of thousands of followers/likes in the campaign. (Attracting followers should never be the ultimate goal)

The idea is: there should be a strategy behind the use of Social Media, I have seen and even worked with a lot of organizations whose presence on Social Media is just that: presence, with absolutely no strategy! There is an election coming up next year, and the fact remains, Social Media will be key in influencing the outcome of the election, and I agree with what Carl Joshua Ncube said in that discussion with Ruvheneko:
“Social Media is gonna be the biggest player in the next election, and any political party that hasn’t harnessed that is going to have the biggest headache to deal with”.
Yes, the biggest, BIGGEST headache next election will be on how to deal with Social Media, during the campaign period or after the election, do not forget to call Mr. C.J Ncube and tell him he is a prophet, Mwana waPapa. Yes, the revolution will be tweeted!

Efforts that use social media in isolation are not likely to be successful; however, social media can augment organizers’ existing strategies for communicating about public issues, building relationships and collaborations with supporters, and encouraging greater involvement among supporters
Overall, offline and online approaches should be used in combination to enhance the effectiveness of a social change effort.

When used to augment advocacy efforts, social media can bolster outreach efforts by spreading information about a cause, reinforcing relationships among supporters, promoting participatory dialogue between group leaders and supporters, and strengthening collective action through increased speed of collaborative communication.

1 Roles of Social Media in Campaigns

I believe Social Media plays three key roles during any campaign, be it a campaign for the use of condoms, provision of free sanitary pads to school girls or an election campaign. One can break down these roles to come up with 5 or six roles, but these are the 3 basic, primary roles of Social Media during campaigns:
  1. Raise Awareness - The first step toward inspiring action is awareness
  2. Coordinate communities - Social Media can help advocacy groups coordinate within their membership, or even help individual advocates find a community with similar experiences.
  3. Mobilization - Advocates no longer have to be at Africa Unity Square to make a difference. Social media allows for networks to campaign around a common cause from the comfort of their own homes.

2 Ladder of Engagement and Pastor Evan Mawarire

Pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag Fame
Having worked on a lot of non-profit websites and digital strategies, some of the most common challenges I tackle include helping organizations increase their following (email lists, Facebook likes and Tweeter followers) and then make this following take action on behalf of the organization, like volunteering or donating. It is not easy to convince people to take action; whilst they may like your organization, it is a whole new level of commitment and passion required for someone to act for you.

One of the tools I have founded very effective in asking supporters to take action is the ‘Ladder of Engagement’, which Pastor Evan Mawarire, whether knowingly or otherwise, used effectively. The Ladder of Engagement depicts that engagement occurs incrementally and is a continuum ranging in type and intensity. Low level engagement (or the lower rungs on the ladder) includes liking, commenting or watching videos whilst moderate behaviors would include downloading such videos and sharing with others. High level engagement extends beyond the digital platforms.

2.1    First Rung: Get Their Attention

Obviously, to get followers, you first need their attention! One needs to get people to like your Facebook page, follow on Twitter, subscribe to your emailing list. People will only do that if they feel there is value in following you, so when people liked Pastor Evan’s page on Facebook, they got value from his Christianity/ pastoring messages, and when he posted his first video in which he almost lamented being a Zimbabwean, people immediately associated and identified with the feelings espoused in that video.

The trick is to remain with some contact details so that you will be able to notify them of your next post, be it on Facebook, Twitter or your website. Pastor Evan managed to get people to like his Facebook page and follow on twitter, and the icing on the cake is if you give them value, either through entertaining, informing or invoking emotions, you will get even more followers, without having to ask for them.

Baba Jukwa, as an example, used information as a way of gaining likes, he would publish information that was not available in the public domain, and both Baba Jukwa (Information) Pastor Evan (emotions) Facebook likes rose exponentially, without them having to advertise their pages or berg people to like. So the key take away on the first rung is to get their attention through offering value.

2.2 Second Rung: Stay in Touch, Become Top of Mind

So you got them to follow you or subscribe to your mailing list, now what? This is where many organizations fail and then blame Social Media as ineffective. You need to keep them engaged to stay top of mind, by producing quality content. Many not-for-profits just post on social media for the sake of posting, without a strategy, and they post stuff that even they themselves would not be interested in, why would anyone else like that?

Pastor Evan was always in touch, posting a new video almost on a daily basis. These were not just some video made because he wanted to post, but they were well thought-out, in depth pleas to the country’s leadership to change the status quo, something that everyone could identify with. Baba Jukwa also did well in this regard, always posting something new, something juicy, something unknown. Almost everyone reading this post was at some point waiting for the next Pastor Evan video or post, or for Baba Jukwa’s posts in 2013, the reason? Value! If you are going to make a video telling people that unemployment is an issue in Zimbabwe, everyone knows that, so please do it in a different way, for example, pastor Evan took the issues personally, and would describe how it’s affecting him personally, and he also took advantage of his profession to appeal to people’s emotions, whilst Baba Jukwa published information that was new every day, and kept people coming back for more.

2.3    Third Rung: Get Them to go Public with Their Support

Any time you give people a way to take action or use your resources, make sure you encourage them to follow up that action by telling their friends or going public with their support. If someone has managed to get past the first two steps, chances are highly likely that they will want to share your information with their friends, since they find it valuable.

Baba Jukwa and Pastor Evan both asked us to share their posts, and Pastor Evan’s videos were downloaded from Youtube and Facebook and extensively shared via other platforms like WhatsApp. Unfortunately, unlike Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others, you can’t accurately measure how extensive something has been shared and viewed on WhatsApp, but all of us know WhatsApp groups were awash with the clergyman’s videos. Let’s remember, if one does not find value, information or entertainment in your content, they are unlikely to share it, so value is the key.

2.4 Fourth Rung: Small offline Actions

Once someone has joined your list and taken online action, getting them to act offline is probably your biggest benchmark of success. The relationship and trust has been built, but we cannot ask for the big action yet.

This is where baba Jukwa failed, compared to Pastor Mawarire, Baba Jukwa just reveled in providing information, and rarely asked people to take offline action whilst Pastor Evan went further and asked his followers to show solidarity with his campaign by ‘donning’ the country’s flag, hence the name of the campaign #ThisFlag. People even went further and started sharing their own photos and videos wrapped in our beautiful stripped flag, to an extent that the government considered banning the public from carrying the flag.

Baba Jukwa, on the other hand, had hundreds of followers, but failed to strategically and tactfully coerce them into taking simple offline action.

2.5 Fifth Rung: The Final (offline) Action

If a segment of your followers has taken the smaller offline action, they've already proven their dedication, so be sure to avoid under-asking! Yes, ask them to shut down Zimbabwe! Why not? Pastor Evan climbed up the ladder, and knew he had the support, and he asked the people of Zimbabwe to #ShutDown Zimbabwe on the 6th of July 2016, and we all know how successful the event was. Baba Jukwa was left stuck on the third rung, when he had every opportunity to get to the fifth rung, if only his was a planned campaign, with an ultimate goal in mind.
#ThisFlag managed to shut down Zimbabwe, by using only Social Media

There are many examples of people who also tried jumping straight to the 5 th step, without going through the first steps, how many WhatsApp messages circulated after the 6 July shut down asking people to further shutdown the country, and were not heeded by anyone. This is because they did not take their time to build relationships and trust with intended audience, something the Pastor did.

Evan’s campaign was so successful that I feel like adding a 6th rung: people decided to act even without a call to action by the pastor. When Evan Mawarire was arrested in the same month, thousands of people, without having to be called by the #ThisFlag leader, came to his trial in solidarity with the man of God, this included other prominent clergymen, business people and influencers in different spheres of life, just highlighting how his social media campaign had impacted the nation.

3 Conclusion

While social media technologies have the potential to increase communication with, effective social change efforts require considerable engagement and action among supporter. As we saw from #ThisFlag movement, engagement occurs incrementally, and social media offer a “foot in the door” by recruiting new supporters and providing opportunities to build relationships over time to gradually increase supporters’ engagement. Supporters become aware of a public issue via social media, but organizers must strive to convert this awareness into actions that support the cause. Social movement organizers must build relationships with supporters over time to increasingly foster individuals’ contributions.

It is important to note that participation in an online advocacy network can expand and contract, and individuals vary in the degree to which they participate. The most passionate members carry a heavy burden of operational tasks, the Fadzai Mahere’s, whereas less engaged members are critical for sharing information widely (That would be me) with their own social connections. The degree to which organizers are able to incrementally move supporters from awareness to action may be affected by a number of factors, which I will talk about in a later post.

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