Back in early March, International Women’s Day 2017 drew the masses to the picket lines.
In Europe, the celebration is nothing new: International Women’s Day originated in Russia over 100 years ago as a day for women to protest in solidary. In 1975, the UN officially declared March 8th an International holiday. Still, it has remained relatively under the radar in the US.
On March 8th 2017, women united to take a stand across the US. Some simply wore red, while others stayed home from work to take part in local demonstrations. Either way, the day was not amiss, making top headlines on all of the major news channels and even inspiring a Snapchat filter.
This recent and ongoing influx in activism is quasi-nostalgic of the 1960’s/1970’s counter culture movement in reaction to steadfast racism and Vietnam / the 1969 draft. At that time, phone trees and door-to-door updates helped spur the movement. That said, protests also found traction in the public eye when respected leaders and beloved celebrities used their platforms to promote protests. For example, Jane Fonda famously toured the US to spread the word about Vietnam, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono coined “bed-ins.”
Today’s millennials are spurring a new wave of activism. Protests and marches are now often organized over social media. Think back to the Women’s March in January 2017, which attracted millions of Americans in cities throughout the world. Those who did not attend could follow via Live Tweets or Snapchat stories. There are Facebook pages and private groups for causes and coalitions, who can share events which even sync up to your mobile device.
Similarly, social media allows celebrities and influencers to promote their personal platforms. From sharing who they voted for in the presidential race to their varied stances on immigration, vaccinations and animal testing, social media opens up an entirely new opportunity for celebs to stand behind more than the next fleeting fad.
Tied to the big day in March, everyone from Michelle Obama to Hillary Clinton, Nicki Minaj, Adele and Kim Kardashian West took to Twitter to show support for the special day. Reese Witherspoon was one of many women who changed her Instagram profile picture to the token color of the movement – red. The amounts of views these celeb social posts yield alone are monumental, but added in is the effect of genuine fan engagement. See below for the thousands of retweets and likes on Kim Kardashian West’s post, hashtagging “InternationalWomensDay.”
Research suggests social media can promote an obsessive desire for inclusion (cue “FOMO” or “Fear of Missing Out”), but maybe when that fear is missing out on involvement in a movement of standing up for one’s beliefs, we can see true progress in public awareness – from standing up for free speech to spreading details on rare, underpublicized diseases.
Since social media influencers have long monetized their followings by promoting products and brands, the understanding of their ability to drive action is not a foreign concept. However, their ability to start difficult conversations is increasingly proving to be a powerful tool – for better or for worse. Essentially, social media can power a movement and can open new conversations. Leaders and marketers alike can benefit from the same concept: understanding that the right person telling the right story on the right platform can potentially be the motivator behind a national movement.
Therein lies the true power of social media: its innate ability to motivate, educate and quickly disseminate information. It also requires an entirely new set of skills, i.e. a need to be critical in all consumption. It also encourages a desire for knowledge that is critical to inciting action.