Originally written for the YouthNet blog
Last Friday, after work, a group of us from YouthNet walked down to Liverpool Street station for a twitter-organised moonwalk in memory of Michael Jackson. Given the instantaneous nature of the Internet, I’m almost too late to blog about the event itself. All over the web, you can read about how a tweeted idea became an exercise in mass participation, involving the police and Network Rail, announcements over the loud speakers at the station, and thousands of people bobbing up and down to Jackson classics. There are plenty of photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, and a twitter stream using the #moonwalk hashtag where you can see how it all came together.
However, what’s more interesting, from my point of view, is the questions it raises for charity marketers, campaigners, press people and others who spread the word about a cause. It’s too easy for social media campaigns to fail – despite the best planning and the most inspiring causes – because they just don’t catch on. For all that we may believe that re-tweeting a message about one of our causes doesn’t take much effort, I’m beginning to wonder if it actually does. People have to be logged into Twitter to see the message in the first place, they have to pick it out of all the other tweets they’re receiving, they have to understand it, engage with it, and choose to pass it on. And that’s only one social networking tool.
It’s also easy to be impressed that the event went from concept to implementation in one day. And while the moonwalk wasn’t actually held in Liverpool Street Station in the end, and while there wasn’t actually room for much moonwalking in such a large crowd, the fact that it happened at all is testament to the power of social media to turn buzz into action. As charities, do we have the ability to be this spontaneous? If the mood of the public was to turn in the direction of our cause on a particular day, would we be able and ready to react? And, would it be appropriate for us to do so?
Finally, when you’re pressed up against people, it’s easy to overhear their conversations. A woman behind me was asked why she was there. “I’m actually more a fan of Twitter than Michael Jackson”, she said. And while, like many children of the 80s, I did bop around my room to Billie Jean, the same applied to me. What we had then was a crowd of people who used Twitter or who know people who used Twitter or read reports of people who used Twitter. While there were some real fans, I’d guess that a significant amount of people had come along to see what was happening and be part of it. If we were going to organise a charity event via social media, would that matter? Raising awareness is a goal in itself sometimes, but if some people are ‘there for the sake of being there’, is that enough?
Would be great to hear your thoughts.