Let’s say you have a really good idea. Not just any great idea, but one that is both revolutionary for your industry and has the potential to create wider positive change. How do you start? What are you doing? How do you turn your idea into a social movement for good?
You’ve probably come up with a name for your idea and crafted a message, like a mission statement or tagline. Then you start talking to your friends and family, who tell you to create a logo and brand guide. You develop a website, create social media accounts and a hashtag, and start telling others about your great idea and the good you’ll do, if only they join you.
But then your effort fails.
Why? Maybe your brilliant idea wasn’t exactly brilliant. Or maybe you just needed to take a different approach to build the momentum that would propel your really great idea into an effective, long-term social movement for good.
What is a social movement for good?
In its simplest form, a movement is a group of people working together for a common social, political or cultural goal. Movements can focus on an injustice, an opportunity for change, or the promotion of a theory or concept. Regardless of direction, all movements require that one key element be transformed from an idea held by a few into an effort led by many: people.
To become an effective social movement, a movement requires collective power beyond organizing small groups to build and sustain long-term change. Social movements for good take this process one step further by generating support for the benefit of an aggrieved group. So, while social movements in general strive for political or cultural change, social movements for good promote awareness and work to bring about positive change on an issue or for an underserved population.
Social movements for good succeed when they provoke mass action that leads to tangible results and contributes to improving the quality of life.
How does a person’s idea become a social movement for good?
Social movements for good start with a leader or movement builder and then require a substantial amount of human capital to generate interest and mobilize people who share common interests. Typically, these movements develop a beginner audience or a group of early adopters. This initial group, in turn, broadens awareness and inspires other subscribers to join the fight for an issue or help the target population. From there, the group grows through the use of public tools, such as social media, which build mass awareness and drive participation in certain actions. It’s the culmination of a movement and it’s usually what piques the interest of the general public.
Becoming an effective social movement requires collective power beyond organizing small groups to build and sustain long-term change.
Ideally, once public interest is piqued, the movement maintains its strength and sustains support for further action through outreach, messaging, and activities that detail the movement’s ever-increasing success. This should lead to a cycle of steadily increasing interest and participation and long-term growth. Over time, a movement that achieves this will progress and become part of the long-term solutions to a problem.
What makes a good social movement leader?
In my many discussions with the leaders and builders of today’s most successful social movements for good, I have noticed a number of qualities that these leaders share. All effective leaders I have spoken with understand the importance of the following characteristics and actions:
Have a proposed result.
Before you start talking and recruiting supporters, know where you are going. Is your goal to provide clean water to those who need it? If so, how are you going to bring them water? To truly distinguish your cause as a social movement for good, chart a clear path to tangible results.
Be with people.
Being a leader doesn’t mean sitting behind a desk; it’s important to be among the people – both those working to create change and the beneficiaries of the movement. Strive to understand how your followers want to generate awareness and create change, as well as what is actually needed to effect change in the population you are trying to serve
Don’t rely on technology alone.
A hashtag does not equal a social movement. Technology can help drive conversations in the digital sphere, but how does that actually impact on the ground? Find other people whose interests match yours by talking to them in person and getting support before you take things online. Always view technology – including social media, a website, and digital advertisements – as a tool to enhance your offline presence rather than the sole driver of your cause.
Connect with empathy.
As humans, we have an innate instinct to help others whose well-being may be in jeopardy. Don’t just talk about your cause with others; help them connect by showing them the faces and telling them the stories behind the problem.
Fundraisers and organizations often think that the most important thing they can do to expand their movement is to get people to join or “belong” to it, which usually means only those who are able to donate time or money. However, if you build a movement in this way, participants will not be personally connected to your cause. Today’s social activists, supporters and donors want to be part of the causes they believe in. If you create opportunities for supporters to talk, share and express their beliefs, they are more likely to take action.
People can tell when movement builders are inauthentic. The successful development of a movement for good depends on the leader’s ability to truly connect with the challenges people are going through. Authenticity is an essential foundation of social movements for good.
Your social movement for good is not about you. Although it might have been your great idea, a movement becomes a success when supporters feel directly connected to those they help.
Make him talk about others.
If your social movement for good is really successful, there will probably come a time when your vision doesn’t really matter anymore. What will matter are the various views and actions of supporters of your movement. Movements are what you make of them, and those that come together for the success of a common goal should be considered a victory.
Whether you create a movement of 20 people in your neighborhood or 20,000 people, the effect you have – whether big or small – can change the world for the better. Building a social movement is an exciting opportunity for anyone who believes they can help bring people together for a common good. Leaders of social movements for good should unite people with common interests and then help them acquire the tools to create meaningful change.
To learn more, visit LeaderStories.org