Polarized voters. People trapped in information bubbles. Corporations making billions spreading disinformation in order to sell more ads.
How do you get heard when calling and texting the same list of contacts has diminishing returns and buying ads isn't an option? It's time to think different.
What social media platform does your target audience prefer? How do these platforms make money? How do they decide which messages to promote in order to make more money? How can outreach campaigns be adapted to work with the social media platform's algorithm to reach more people? How can volunteers help in this effort?
This blog covers:
- How social media platforms decide what is profitable for them to promote
- How relational organizing on social media works
- The reach of major social media platforms
- How social media algorithms determine what content to promote
How Facebook & YouTube make money
Social media platforms (better called ad platforms) make money selling ads. They use algorithms to find content that will keep viewers online longer in order to show them more ads. This leads groups to create clickbait content, designed to attract users' attention and use bots to artificially make the messages seem popular. Social media algorithms are tricked into thinking the posts are popular, so they show the clickbait to more people. It is a vicious cycle in which social media platforms profit from the spread of disinformation and polarization of society. Genuine, truthful voices get drowned out.
Barring legislation to change their behavior, these platforms will continue to work the same because it's very profitable for them. Grassroots groups have to adapt to work with this reality. How can this be done when their message isn't clickbait and without armies of bots to artificially boost posts nor the money to advertise their message? They should leverage their supporters who are already on the platforms to help spread messages. But this has to be done in a manner that takes into account how the social media platform algorithms choose what content gets promote. The technique has to work across different platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and TikTok.
Relational organizing on social media
Disinformation campaigns on social media rely on bots to boost content to make it appear more popular than it really is, which tricks the algorithm into giving it more exposure. These bots are programmed to LIKE and SHARE messages from their creator and other bots in the network. The bots work in unison in a short period of time using the same hashtag in order to give the appearance of trending topic that a lot of people are interested in the topic. It's fake, but effective. The social media platform algorithms pick up the activity surrounding the disinformation and amplify the content.
Grassroots groups don't need to build armies of bots to spread disinformation when they have volunteers who can be used to spread the truth. Volunteers have to be managed to work in unison with the same hashtag for maximum impact and be spotted by the social media platform algorithm.
"Tweetstorm (an early example of this tactic) is an organized flood of tweets from many users during a set time period. The influx of traffic around a specific hashtag leverages the Twitter algorithm to get these tweets seen by many more people than any single user or organization could. They can be used to draw attention and conversation around a less-covered issue, put pressure on a specific political target, or push back against a dominant narrative." (Rethink Media)
How can the equivalent of Tweetstorms be created on different social media platforms quickly - and easily? Groups also need to tailor the messages to different audiences:
- TikTok, SnapChat and Instagram with younger users
- WeChat is popular in the Chinese community
- WhatsApp is very popular with users who need to make free international calls
Blue Future is a national organizing program of the Youth Progressive Action Catalyst, a youth-led, political action committee. Blue Future mobilizes, and connects young people to progressive electoral campaigns, equipping them with the resources, tools, skills, and network to be effective volunteers, organizers, and public servants. It is building field infrastructure to help progressive Democrats while simultaneously developing a diverse leadership pipeline. Blue Futures trains volunteers on how to share messages on social media with a video course.
The Blue Future National Social Media Team uses online relational organizing with social media amplification to reach more people. Volunteers are asked to download the free VoteForce app from the Apple or Google stores and register their location and interests. Blue Future campaign managers use a dashboard to send volunteers messages for them to share based on where they live and their profile. Volunteers are alerted when there is a new message for them to share. They can post the received message on one or more social media platforms with just two clicks. Volunteers are encouraged to like and comment on other posts from fellow-volunteers in order to get that hashtag more attention.
A human-powered network designed to work well with social media algorithms.
Create outreach message
How volunteers share targeted messages on social media
How a message is spread across different platforms
Social network ranking (Jan 2021)
Facebook was the first social network to surpass one billion registered accounts and currently has over 2.74 billion monthly active users. It owns four of the biggest social media platforms, all with over one billion monthly active users each: Facebook (core platform), WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Facebook reported over 3.3 billion monthly core Family product users. - Published by H. Tankovska, Feb 9, 2021
How Facebook's algorithm prioritizes what to promote
Facebook's algorithm uses several factors to determine which posts to share further. - Brandwatch
How informative is the post?
Content type. Average time spent on content.
As you can see Facebook is all about proper engagement from people, such as comments and shares on Messenger.
Comments, replies and likes. Engagement with publisher content posted by friends
Shares on Messenger
Who posted the content? Completeness of a profile.
When was it posted? What time is it now?
Technology (type of phone, and strength of internet connection)
How YouTube's algorithm prioritizes what to promote
The algorithm looks at a video's performance - Hootsuite
Whether people click on a video (a.k.a. impressions vs. views: thumbnail, and title are important, here)
How much time people spend watching a video (watch time, or retention)
How many likes, dislikes, comments or shares a video gets (a.k.a. engagement)
How quickly a video’s popularity snowballs, or doesn’t (this is called view velocity, rate of growth)
How new a video is (new videos may get extra attention in order to give them a chance to snowball)
How often a channel uploads new videos
How much time people spend on the platform after watching a video (session time)
TakeAway: Think different. Enlist volunteers to help spread your message on social media. Increase the credibility of your messages with relational organizing, so that people receive messages from someone they know.