Stories of Social Media Advocacy: 5 Lessons from The Women’s March

We all know just how powerful social media can be in igniting, shaping, and advancing conversations and topics. When something goes viral on social media, it can attract the attention of millions of people. A trending hashtag can become a household topic of conversation. A controversial or interesting Instagram post can spawn thought pieces and generate even more buzz. Many people, brands and organizations especially, are trying in many ways to capture some of the powerful effects that social media can have. They want to be the center of conversation, to generate buzz, and to gain exposure. Perhaps they should look to some of the instances where social media took something small and amplified it into something huge and historical: social justice movements.

One social justice movement recognizable by just about everyone, is the Women’s March on Washington, which took place on January 21st, 2017 and had a worldwide participation of an estimated nearly 5 billion people at over 600 worldwide marches. But how exactly did this movement begin?

With a Facebook page. On election night, a woman named Theresa Shook from Hawaii was upset with the results and created a page focused on concerns about threats to women’s rights under the new administration. She had the idea of organizing a women’s march, and invited about 40 friends to the page. By the morning, 10,000 people had gotten on board and expressed interest in attending. And the numbers only continued to soar from there.

But what took this movement from a post on Facebook to a worldwide movement with billions of participants? Here are some of the ways in which social media played a role in making this movement viral:

  1. It capitalized on conversations that people were already having. While the movement may have started with a single Facebook post, there was already a ton of buzz surrounding the election and related issues on social media. In this election, more than ever before, people were turning to social media to express thoughts and debate. This movement cropped up at a time when many people had similar concerns as Theresa, and were already posting about their concerns. The page just became a place for all those with similar concerns to come together.

  2. It gave people a voice. Once the movement started to gain traction, people felt encouraged to share their own thoughts and concerns on social media. Through the use of hashtags, people could identify themselves as part of the movement, and browse through other people’s posts about the movement. Perhaps most notable is the #WhyIMarch hashtag, which invited people to share their personal reasons for marching. By January 24th, #WhyIMarch had been hashtagged nearly 200,000 times across social media platforms.

  3. It capitalized on previously existing social networks. A big part of why this movement became so successful was because of how shareable it became. Hundreds of Facebook events for marches around the world were created. When someone marks interest in an event on Facebook, it shows up in the newsfeeds of their friends. Thus, these Facebook event pages quickly became viral themselves. People shared them with friends, and the word was able to easily spread across wide networks of people.
  4. It allowed people to live-capture the movement. On the actual day of the march, social media exploded with posts live from the events across the globe, with people sharing anecdotes, photos, and thoughts. The #womensmarch hashtag alone received 2,610,079,200 impressions from 544,830 posts. The sheer volume of posts on that day with the hashtag made it trending across most social media platforms, which only served to bring further attention to the movement.
  5. It created content that was used after the event to continue to garner attention. The viral nature of this movement has lasted far beyond the day of the actual march. With so many people sharing posts, especially photos, on the day of the event, there was an endless amount of content left over as a result. Media brands scanned this content and repurposed it into articles, only furthering the impacts of the movement.

In conclusion, the Women’s March was a historical event and movement that garnered attentions from billions of people, but it all started on social media. The viral nature of this event goes to show just how powerful social media can be in amplifying people’s voices, bringing people together, and coalescing people and ideas into a movement that becomes talked about by just about everyone.