Facebook Could be a Powerful Organizing Recruitment Tool, If We Could Afford

New Orleans   There was an intriguing and in some ways unsettling piece in the New York Times recently about the growing power of Facebook and friends called “The Ads That Know Everything” by Burt Helm. The title of the piece in the online version lowered the “fright” index by calling it “How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fate of Start-Ups.” No matter how they cleaned it up, trust me, it’s both compelling and scary.

True enough, the story was centered around a couple of buddies who ended up taking a deep dive into Facebook to create a multi-million dollar business. The heart of the piece was about the power of the Facebook algorithm matched to the vast billions of people on its platform and its ability to match smaller and smaller subsets of like-minded people or characteristics to sell stuff. Much the same could be said for Google’s work, but a social network is a social network, and one that sells stuff between friends and followers is crack to businesses.

No news there, right? But, as the Russians, hate groups, the women’s march, and #MeToo have all shown, it is also a way to combine people in affinity groups, and as sales are to businesses, recruitment of new members or activists is to mobilizations and organizations. By the time I read the piece my partner, a veteran community organizer, had pockmarked the article with scores of underlined passages and notes.

No news there either, right? Many leads in opening new countries for ACORN International have begun when I’ve received a random Facebook message over the transom of my own page. Our British affiliate has excelled in using Facebook’s public and private groups to recruit new members, especially in the Bristol area where they immediately visit, and usually sign up, any new “likes” their site.

The interesting takeaway from the Times article was how quickly one could scale the organizing if an organization had the resources to do similar experiments with the recruitment pitches and was all over it like “white on rice.” In fact, I’m sure there are large nonprofits, especially among the deeper pocketed groups like Planned Parenthood or some of the enviros that have digital organizers who use similar strategies to recruit donors or perhaps members as well. If there were unions willing to recruit general membership in the United States like there are in some cases in the United Kingdom, they could still probably finance the ad buys and constant feeding capacity to identify and recruit new members. Political campaigns like those run by Sanders, Trump, and Clinton probably were all over this technology. I don’t know for a fact that any of them are doing so, but they certainly have the opportunity following the same trail-and-error methodology to build a mass base of support.

There’s a huge opportunity here to build a mass organization if one coupled social networking recruitment with a real program and direct action involvement to build power. It was hard to escape the conclusion as I read the article that it could be done, and even done globally, but it would take real vision and patience combined with very deep pockets ready to feed Facebook and its friends.

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Please enjoy Khruangbin’s Maria Tambien.

& All That We Are by Haneen.

Thanks to KABF.

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Social Media is Giving Boycotts New Life

New Orleans   Frequently, I’ve quibbled about the role of social media tools in building organizations. I’ve argued such tools are powerful communication tools, rather than organizing tools. They can spread the word to people, lots of people, but they are not a substitute for actual people, participation, meetings, and actions. They might even spark a movement by communicating about actions and work on the ground, but social media does not organize movements. Nonetheless, where social media has carved out a powerful role because of its unique facility at almost instantaneous mass communication is in creating instant impact boycotts of companies and their products.

Look at the quick crash and burn experienced by United Airlines as an example. The impact of a passenger’s video of police forcibly ejecting a passenger from a crowded airplane and dragging him down the aisle was immediately viral. The reactions led to one revised statement after another by the United CEO reckoning with the fact that the reaction was dropping the company’s stock price forcing him to acknowledge that no passenger should ever be treated this way and promising to never use law enforcement to handle such situations in aircraft again. The company became the face of brutality on the internet.   One picture showed passengers inside a United plane with most of them wearing helmets. Another joke circulated that United was now specializing in its role as “first in Chinese takeout.” Corporate apologists commented on how the airline industry had become a kleptocracy where customer service was no longer a factor. Conservative economists asked why the airline didn’t keep raising the price it was offering to passengers to leave the flight until it was successful? Who wants this trouble? No company, and with 44,000 passengers bumped per year for oversold situations, it is the one where social media swarmed that made a difference.

The work of campaigning efforts like Sleeping Giants and #grabyourwallet have been extremely successful in bringing the heat on advertisers for companies with hypersensitive public profiles dependent on consumer purchases.   Breitbart News has lost advertisers from such efforts. Protests have been launched impacting Trump companies and supporter brands. Unquestionably Bill O’Reilly, a longtime Fox News rainmaker, is teetering on the edge of losing his show because the reaction has been so strong that half of his sponsors have pulled out over the paradox of his moralizing versus the $11 million in settlements for sexual harassment claims that he and Fox have paid in recent years.

Admittedly, these are thunderstorms that light up the sky, rather than permanent weather patterns. It is impossible to predict which calls for a boycott will strike lightning and create a social media storm, but the very fact that it is possible and that the clouds can move so quickly from balmy to raging is changing the corporate calculations. The drug companies withdrawal from executions in Arkansas was an example. The hypersensitivity that Trump tweets have brought to corporate America now are also part of the new environment.

Who knows what will last, but for the moment, social media has again weaponized the consumer boycott, and that’s a good thing.

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