Twitter: The digital megaphone?

How social and online media are changing the personality of social activism.

Gone are the days of going door to door to share a petition, making phone calls to get people to attend a rally, or standing on street corners shouting out in the name of your cause. In this day and age, people who support your campaign or cause are more easily accessible in masses through that wonderful tool we call the Internet.

In many ways Twitter (and other forms of social media) has become the megaphone of the digital space.

Because the Internet has few limits on how many people it can reach in a day, and because we aren’t relying on individuals walking miles knocking on doors, word can spread quicker and spread among people who actually care. You don’t get to choose how or when people will come to your home and try to convince you to sign a petition, donate to a cause or support a particular candidate. But with the Internet, the choice is all yours when it comes to who to follow, when to comment, what to share and when. The power rests in the hands of supporters, and in the landscape of social media big things happen.

Uber, an app designed as an alternative to taxis that dispatches professional drivers within minutes of a user’s request, just successfully mounted a counter to a proposed effort by the D.C. city council to increase minimum fairs. A councilmember from D.C.’s Ward 3 submitted an amendment to the legislation designed to modernize the District’s taxi fleet that would have set Uber’s minimum starting rate to $15—five times the price of getting into an ordinary D.C. cab.

When Uber’s marketers caught wind of the amendment, they took to email and Twitter—rallying users against the proposed amendment. In their email to customers, Uber listed the names and Twitter handles of all the city council members who would be voting on the legislation. Twitter transformed into a digital bullhorn as thousands of tweets and emails poured into city council (one from me as well) in a united front forcing them to back down.

One supporter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse), tweeted, “ for a better, smarter way to hire a car. Hard to believe but D.C. Council may vote to keep your fares high. #UberDCLove”. With the outcry from D.C. Uber fans, the city council decided not to move forward on the proposed fare hikes. So for now, Uber fares are safe thanks to the influence and support Twitter and email were able to harness.

One takeaway here is that in many ways protesting online against a law that you believe is unjust can be just as effective as live protests and marches. The big difference is that taking it online helps your message to spread farther, faster. So if you have something important to say, arm your marketing teams with Twitter and take advantage of the online amplifier to spread the word.

Alena Baisden serves as digital media director at Smart Media Group. Prior to joining SMG, she executed online and traditional media campaigns for consumer brands, top universities and travel & tourism accounts. A version of this post was also published on Smart Media Group’s blog, Smart Blog.

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