The truth is, the statement above doesn’t really describe what I do, it’s just the fastest way to answer the question and move on with the conversation.
In fact, if someone were to say to me “Let’s have a lengthy conversation about what you do for a living and what it means to the world,” well I’d instantly get heart eyes and pour my soul out to them on what it’s like to be a Digital Activist.
Since I don’t have anyone beating down my door asking either of those questions, I decided to be proactive and share my experience here in an effort to help others better understand the critical role a Digital Activist plays across businesses, teams, and the world. Let’s start with the basics…
What is Digital Activism?
By definition, digital activism is a form of activism that uses the internet and digital media as key platforms for mass mobilization and to drive social and political change.
Some examples of this could be campaigns like Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, or the Blue Campaign focused on raising awareness on how to identify and respond to instances of Human Trafficking.
All of these are considered social or political campaigns that are working to drive awareness and action to fight for their causes.
But digital activism isn’t just for the world of politics. For me, I use digital activism to create communities of people to move missions and society forward at IBM and with innovators around the world. Still not sure what I mean? I’ll break it down for you in the next section.
Five Steps to Become a Digital Activist
1. Declaring your mission
Digital activism starts with the need for change. This could be political and societal change like the examples above, or in my case, the need to drive cultural change across an international corporation.
No matter the cause, you need to have a very clear mission on what change you want to drive and why. By declaring your mission statement, desired outcomes, and measurements for success, you can begin to plan your digital activation strategy.
A Personal Example: At IBM, I have created and executed many digital activation campaigns for various programs and missions I have been tasked to lead. One of those campaigns focused on the mission of “Driving a culture of innovation and storytelling across the IBM Services organization.”
The outcomes we were looking for were 1) new, innovative solutions that would solve our clients’ and world problems, 2) a platform to enable a growing community of innovators to engage and collaborate, and 3) business growth through partnerships with these innovators. Some of our measurements of success were revenue growth, community size, and engagement.
2. Knowing your target demographic
Once you know what change is needed, then it’s time to understand who are the demographics that need to make this change along with any other stakeholders that could influence them or the current culture.
There are several Design Thinking exercises you can do to better understand your “users” or different personas, but it basically comes down to understanding their wants, needs, influences, and goals. If you can learn to think like your user, you can begin to see what will motivate them to act in this new way to drive your mission forward.
A Personal Example: In my campaigns at IBM, I have had many target demographics I was trying to reach. In one campaign focused on reskilling and upskilling our workforce, we used cognitive analytics to map our supply (our professionals) with the demand (skills our clients needed.)
We were able to use those insights to identify IBMers that could be trained to take on new and important jobs for our customers while also investing in their professional development and careers. Our “target demographic” was the employees we needed to take action to reskill and upskill to better serve our clients.
3. Finding your champions
This is likely one of the most important steps as you get started as champions are mini digital activists, who will help lead the charge towards this new society or world you are working to build.
For many organizations, people feel the “trickle down effect” works best to drive awareness— this could be executives sending out mass communications, guidance and mandates to employees or a Governor declaring a “Stay-at-home” order, which I think we can all relate to at the moment.
In many situations, top-down change management is important, but for a successful digital activation campaign, the most effective way to drive change is through a grassroots movement.
By creating a network of champions, you now have mission evangelists who take on the role of advisor, advocate and coach to your target demographic. These are people on the ground working with your audience to build trust and relationships.
A Personal Example: With every new mission or program I take on at IBM, one of the first steps I take is to create a small community of champions to help me. I start by recruiting colleagues I’ve worked with over the past ten years to join in a collaborative space. At IBM, a very useful tool to do this is with Slack, where you can create channels for different projects and communities. Another real-life example of creating a group of champions is through Facebook Groups, as seen with Lean In Circles.
I typically start with 50 or so people that I personally invite to be champions, and then I challenge or incent them to invite collegues from their network or teams, who would be interested in our mission and helping us accomplish our goals, to join our cause.
The past two digital activation campaigns I ran grew from approx. 50 to over 2500 IBMers around the world in a matter of months. These champions were there by choice and ready to help drive culture change across their teams and company.
4. Creating meaningful content
Now that you know your audience and also have a community of champions to help you reach them, it’s time to create meaningful content that can help tell the story and inspire action. This content takes many forms— it can be a blog like you are reading right now, a video posted on social media or dedicated youtube channel, a podcast, or even a hashtag like we saw with #metoo.
Some things to consider when creating this content are: 1) Is it clear on what change is needed and why? 2) Will it resonate with your audience? 3) Will it inspire them to take action? 4) Is the story being told in a concise and compelling way to make the audience feel a certain way?
A Personal Example: One of the best ways to get people to share personal experiences or to take an action is for them to see others doing it first. When working to drive a culture of innovation and storytelling across our Services organization, the first thing we did was start finding and telling stories of innovation that could be used as examples of what we were looking for.
We started creating videos of IBMers innovating for our clients and even started a podcast that featured IBMers and clients around the world, who are disrupting markets through innovation and technology. Soon after we went live with this podcast series, our target audience started bringing forward their own stories and engaging within our the community space we created for them.
By sharing examples of how you want people to act or behave, it will show them the path forward to begin to act in that new way.
5. Executing your digital activation strategy
The final step in driving real change is to create and execute a digital activation strategy leveraging the foundation you’ve put in place with your champion network and content-sharing channels.
You must have frequent, consistent, and compelling content being shared in order to reach all of your stakeholders. This includes having a communications schedule, retrospectives on what is working and what is not, a feedback loop that allows your champions and stakeholders to share what they are hearing on the front-lines, and the willingness to adapt when results are not meeting expectations.
A Personal Example: In March, I began a new cross-IBM role focused on enhancing our IBM Client Experience through quality initiatives. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I started by understanding the mission and my target audience, began building a community of champions, created content, and am now finalizing my strategy.
To give you a view into what a strategy looks like, for me, it is very similar to a communications plan. It lays out all mediums we will use to reach our stakeholders, who those stakeholders are, how frequently we will communicate with them, and how we will measure each workstream's effectiveness.
Once you have determined all of these aspects in your strategy, the best way to begin is just that— begin. You will start to see what is working and what is not, which will allow you to course-correct, as needed.
As industries and society continue to move to a more digital world, we will all see a rise in the need for digital activism and those leaders who can truly ignite change across large groups of people.
My hope is by laying out what digital activism is and how it can be used for good, one day when asked what it is that I do for a living, I can speak the truth from my digital activist heart and people will smile... not because I’m speaking gibberish, but because they understand.
They understand that by igniting change, I am helping lead us to a smarter and safer world.