Taking Back The Social Network

Back in 2013 when the NSA spying revelations came out, Bruce Schneier of the Guardian wrote an article about Taking Back The Internet, where he urged engineers to help fix and build a better, safer, more secure and free internet. Obviously this is not just a job for engineers but activists, ordinary users and anyone who cares about their online privacy and freedom. Re-purposing an entire medium is not an easy task, it can be even worse when you don’t understand how it works. there are however certain things that we all understand, or marginally more than ip protocols or encryption modules for instance, like human relationships and how people’s minds work. You can’t for instance expect people to stop sharing funny cat pictures on Facebook so that they can start focusing more on discussing climate change and world hunger issues. For the same reason you can’t go to LinkedIn and expect people to like and comment on your selfies. Certain platforms are just not intended for certain things.Understanding this will at least help activists know, plan and decide how they should use the tools available to them. More often than not this will involve building new tools by those capable or re-purposing available tools in order to make them more useful and effective. One such tool is of course the social network.

Activism and Social Networking

First we must understand that there is a difference between what we call Social Media and Social Networking. People often use the terms interchangeably, but there is a difference.

Social media is about content, including user-generated content such as blogs, status posts, tweets, pictures, YouTube videos, etc. Put another way social media is the electronic act of passing information back and forth between your friends, family and network of associates.

Social networking on the other hand is about people and relationships. The most important factor of any social network is not only the people themselves but also how they connect and communicate with one another. This is why social networks like twitter and Facebook often spend millions improving their onsite user experience, support and software.

The difference between the two might seem trivial to some, but understanding how and why they work can prove to be very crucial to the activist who wishes to utilize these platforms effectively. There are still those who like denouncing cyber activism, often stating that ‘likes’ don’t really help. While forgetting that these technologies still provide us with communication platforms that can spread news and information quicker and faster than any other technological medium that mankind has invented so far. The other thing that denouncers never seem to take into account is that a clear understanding of how these technologies work is necessary in order to really gauge and measure the effect that these platforms have in the real world.

Social networking sites can provide activists and nonprofits with low-touch communications that come bundled with CRM-like features to help them maintain better relationships with their supporters. Whether you are a social entrepreneur running a nonprofit, a volunteer or an activist who wants to spread awareness for their cause, you still need to know how social media works in order to better utilize these tools and effectively promote your cause online.

The sociological transformation driven by the social web is drastically changing how we live, think, behave and communicate. It has had tremendous impact on our society and our relationships with each other. People have become more comfortable sharing their personal lives with more people and more openly. In a more open world both activists and organizations need to be more self-reflective. More and more organizations are now realizing how much they really need to identify what their mission is and what they really stand for. In order to communicate more effectively in this new and open environment, organizations and activists must adopt a business and marketing approach to their online strategies. Sometimes this also means using the same terminologies to define and formulate objectives and strategies.

Developing a Social Media Strategy

The social web is about relationships first and foremost. If you are just starting out getting people to like your page and maintaining engagement may prove to be very difficult in the beginning. Especially if you don’t have a large network or support structure. But nothing happens overnight, and being consistent in your efforts is the key. You will also need to decide how you want to go about building your community and how you are going to organize and publicize events and protests. And how you plan to arrange and organize face-to-face meetings and gatherings.

Creating a Facebook page or a twitter account will only get you so far. You need to figure out how you are going to maintain and grow your community. The best way is to come up with a strategy for engagement that you are comfortable with. Some activists are more comfortable using their personal profiles to promote their cause, others prefer boundaries by sticking to using impersonal blogs and Facebook pages.

Stop broadcasting and start communicating

Most people simply post their important updates and simply wait for others to respond. Sometimes the act of posting an update is enough and user reactions and comments are never deemed to warrant response. This method will eventually result in people losing interest in anything you have to say in the future.

It’s all about networking

There are also various ways of networking on social networks. You can join specific groups, comment on posts, search for events and people. Remember there are limitations to what you can do as a page for instance on Facebook. So networking in the truest sense can only be done on a personal level.


Social networking sites can also be used as powerful contact management systems. Since users are always updating their profiles and information, this means that potentially all the information that you have about your contacts is always up to date. Effective communication is also about managing relationships and interactions with your supporters. Here are four ways in which you can do better CRM:

  • Be consistent – Maintain a consistent experience and theme when interacting with supporters through your page or network. Do not post updates about sexism if your page is about environmentalism, etc.
  • Reply to comments and messages – People appreciate being acknowledged and noticed
  • Take care of any issues and complaints – No matter how well meaning you may be or how hard you try, eventually you will offend someone. Try to act gracefully and remember what is really important. Apologize if you have to.
  • Be the first to respond – Whenever an issue or argument occurs on your page you must always be the first to respond to any of these issues, not the last.

Remember to always be moderate and relevant in your updates and posts. Don’t post too much, don’t overdo it, and try to keep it short if possible.


Regardless of which social media platform you use, you should always try to keep up to date with all the announcements and platform changes. This will allow you to learn how to better utilize your chosen medium.

The revolution will not be tweeted, so they say. While it’s true that social networks alone cannot provide what social change has always required, however, maybe its not a matter of the social networks alone. To a great extent our knowledge, attitudes and approach to these vast and empowering technological platforms also determines and plays a huge role on how effective our efforts will be.