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Category: Theory

Memes as a campaigning tool

If you spend more than a few hours a day on the Internet (which, you must admit, is the case for nearly all of us), there are certain things you will come across wherever you are. On Twitter, it’s a food ordering site, on Instagram, some parody account. You can even find them on the hook-up apps. A smiling grandpa with gleaming teeth wearing  doctor’s clothes a guy watching a girl pass by while another girl next to him labels him, as an evil Kermit … They’re everywhere. Literally everywhere.

What they are?

They are memes.


Defining ‘memes

This word seems to have crept into almost all languages. We communicate with memes more and more often. Whether it’s pointing out serious problems or just as a joke.

All righty! We will start, in an academic, nerdy manner, to first define what memes are, by consulting serious researchers and sources.

According to MW Dictionary, this word dates back to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In Dawkins’ conception of the term, it is “a unit of cultural transmission”—the cultural equivalent of a gene.

Meme found its place in dictionaries, from 2015, which define it as an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or type of item that is spreads widely online especially through social media.

Okay, great, but not every digital content that gains popularity is a meme, right? There is a whole lot of fun contents on the internet, but not all of them are meme.s

So, another question arises – what are essential elements of a meme?

It is an extremely challenging to try to determine the anatomy of such an elastic and evolving concept as a meme.

There are several features.

  • Reproducibility: digitally produced pieces of content must be infinitely reproducible and exploitable across a wide breadth of platforms.
  • Searchability: finished versions of memes, as well as raw templates, should be easy to find.
  • Scalability: digital material is created for a specific audience, but with the knowledge that it can be shared with a much wider audience, wherever the internet reaches.
  • Persistence: although digital items may not last as long as physical objects, they are infinitely transferable and storable in many locations.
  • Adaptable model: memes should have recognisable structures, with spaces for new content.

Maybe it isn’t very appropriate to say, given the times we are living in, but internet memes are probably quite comparable to viruses. They are dependent on living hosts, have the capacity to infect anything and everything, the ability to evolve, to mutate, to grow and, most importantly, to spread.

Because they are ubiquitous and very popular, everyone starts to use them. Just everyone. Businesses, politicians, celebrities … Even activists. Particularly activists! Quite simple to make and even simpler to distribute and disseminate; they can communicate a stance or message at a glance, revealing an issue in such a plain, yet appealing way.

As they have the tendency to spread quickly, constantly evolve and transform, it makes them hard to eliminate in the way that other forms of communicative protest can be silenced.


A wide breadth of international human rights organizations have recognized the importance and capacity of memes in combatting various types of discrimination such as racism, homophobia and transphobia.


Let’s take a look at examples of how memes have been used in LGBTQI+ activism

Political Satire

Do you recall “gay Putin” meme, that became viral in 2013?


As this altered image with lipstick and makeup gained popularity and mobilized the queer movement across Russia, it seems that the Head of State, either out of fear of massive, nationwide mobilization, or dissatisfaction that an internet meme which depicted him with mascara and rainbow colours disrupting his masculine image, started to crack down on both sexual liberties and online speech.

In the very same year, 2013, Russia passed its first “Internet extremism” laws. A year later, President Putin signed a law imposing prison sentences on people supporting banned online posts. In 2015, Russian law enforcement began shutting down websites of Putin critics, restricting virtually all anonymous blogs.

Eventually, in 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the “Gay Putin meme” in a registry of “extremist materials,” together with others such as anti-semitic and racist pictures and slogans. It became illegal to distribute the image of a Russian president wearing makeup.

The fierceness of the repression is a clear indicator of how powerful the Russian authorities see this new form of political satire.


Collaborative campaigning

Another example is the “Gay culture is…” meme.

Queerty traced the meme’s origins to early September 2017, when one man’s tweet about his wasted teenage years went viral.



Immediately, Twitter users started producing content in the same format, expressing their own vision of what “Gay Culture” means to them.

The format here is different as the meme invites users not only to share a set content but to collaborate with personal inputs. This format is clearly the expression of the present age of activism that focuses more on active participation than passive sharing.

The final question that remains to be asked is whether memes be considered a ‘slacktivist’ tool, and if so – how strong are they really? In practice so far, it can be said that memes are possibly responsible for helping fuel ongoing discourse on many issues.

Current research suggests that internet memes play an important role in civic expression and citizen empowerment. Queer activists and campaigners have already leveraged this, and with certainty will continue to do so.

Creating your memes

And yeah, I’ve left the best news to the end – memes are very easy to make!

You don’t need  knowledge about design, or be skilled in Photoshop. Just visit THIS website and generate your own meme. You can use some that are already popular or you can popularize your template – simply by uploading the desired photo.

If you want to make a meme out of a gif – just visit this website.


Good luck!


Do you want to “Raise Awareness”? Well, stop, or it might be a dumb way to die.

Ever thought of dumb ways to die?

Watch this!

So, is this a good or a bad campaign?

This article from the Standford Social Innovation Review shares precious insights on this, and on many other aspects of how to make a successful campaign.

It’s worth reading it in full, but for the busy ones, here’s the digest:

There is a widely held belief within the campaigning world that hostility towards an issue, or a wrong behavior, is quite simply due to a lack of knowledge. So campaigns must “raise awareness”.

Raising awareness about something that wasn’t known before can be a useful tactic when it’s part of a larger effort to drive social change. But to truly drive change, we have to consider the science that shows there is a more strategic, effective, and focused way to drive social change. In fact, research suggests that not only do campaigns fall short and waste resources when they focus solely on raising awareness, but sometimes they can actually end up doing more harm than good. When done wrong, an awareness campaign carries four specific risks: it might lead to no action; It might reach the wrong audience; it might create harm; and it could generate a backlash.

So what makes a campaign right?

This articles argues that there are there are four essential elements to creating a successful public interest communications campaign: target your audience as narrowly as possible; create compelling messages with clear calls to action; develop a theory of change; and use the right messenger.

Even if this sounds obvious to you, this articles builds its case on many examples of campaigns, and this alone makes it worth reading.


Stop Raising Awareness Already

Welcome to February in America. You’re no doubt aware that this is HIV/ AIDS awareness month and Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. February also includes Singles Awareness Day, American Heart Month, AMD/ Low Vision Awareness Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, African Heritage & Health Week, Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, Condom Week, Eating Disorders Awareness and Screening Week, National “Wear Red” Day for women’s heart health, World Cancer Day, and Give Kids a Smile Day, to mention just a few.

Unsure what to do with all your awareness? You’re not alone. Or maybe you’re still catching up on all the calls to action from January’s days of awareness: What with it being Co-dependency Awareness Month, Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, Poverty in America Awareness Month, Radon Action Month, Self-Help Group Awareness Month, Stalking Awareness Month, Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Volunteer Blood Donor Month, and Weight Loss Awareness Month all at the same time, your to-do list is probably full.

For those working on a cause they care about, the first instinct is often to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the problem. When we care about an issue or a cause, it’s natural to want others to care as much as we do. Because, we reason, surely if people knew that you’re more likely to die in an accident if you don’t wear a seat belt, they’d wear their seat belt. And if people only knew that using condoms is critical to preventing the spread of disease, then they would use one every time.

That instinct is described by communication theory as the Information Deficit Model. The term was introduced in the 1980s to describe a widely held belief about science communication—that much of the public’s skepticism about science and new technology was rooted, quite simply, in a lack of knowledge. And that if the public only knew more, they would be more likely to embrace scientific information.

That perspective persists, not just in the scientific community but also in the world of nonprofits, marketing, and public relations. Public relations texts frequently cite awareness, attitude, and action objectives. Marketing students learn that awareness precedes action. And many of the foremost public relations and advertising agencies still report results to clients in the form of impressions—the number of people who were exposed to the message.

If the goal is solely to increase knowledge of an issue, then an awareness campaign can work just fine. But is it ever enough for people to simply know more about something? If, for example, the goal were to raise awareness among new parents of the importance of immunizing their children, you wouldn’t be satisfied if parents were simply aware. You’d want to be sure that they were also having their children immunized for the right diseases at the right age.

Or say you want people to be aware of the importance of being prepared for a hurricane. There’s a potentially life-threatening gulf between being aware of the importance of being prepared for a hurricane and actually having several cases of water set aside and an escape plan that your entire family knows and understands. Maybe your awareness goals are attached to something more abstract or where the solutions are less clear—such as the effect of implicit bias on workplace diversity or the growing threat of global warming. But in each of those cases, specific actions are available that can overcome both of those threats.

Because abundant research shows that people who are simply given more information are unlikely to change their beliefs or behavior, it’s time for activists and organizations seeking to drive change in the public interest to move beyond just raising awareness. It wastes a lot of time and money for important causes that can’t afford to sacrifice either. Instead, social change activists need to use behavioral science to craft campaigns that use messaging and concrete calls to action that get people to change how they feel, think, or act, and as a result create long-lasting change.

How Awareness Campaigns Fail

Making the public more aware of an issue can, of course, be a critical step in creating an environment where change is possible. Would there have been so much discourse around income inequality this past US presidential election if the Occupy movement hadn’t stirred up national attention in 2011? Would we have known the meaning behind #blacklivesmatter if there hadn’t been a consistent effort to make known racialized police brutality? Or would there be a discussion about transgender rights without exposure to stories through television shows such as Orange Is the New Black and Transparent?

Raising awareness about something that wasn’t known before can be a useful tactic when it’s part of a larger effort to drive social change. But to truly drive change, we have to consider the science that shows there is a more strategic, effective, and focused way to drive social change. In fact, research suggests that not only do campaigns fall short and waste resources when they focus solely on raising awareness, but sometimes they can actually end up doing more harm than good.

Before exploring the most effective ways to create awareness, it’s important to understand the ineffective and even harmful effects that awareness can have. When done wrong, an awareness campaign carries four specific risks: it might lead to no action; It might reach the wrong audience; it might create harm; and it could generate a backlash. We will examine each of these risks in turn.

When Awareness Campaigns Lead to No Action

It’s easy to assume that sharing information in an engaging way is enough to motivate people to adopt new behaviors. However, research suggests that this is not the case. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Zombie Apocalypse campaign provides an instructive example.

In May 2011, Dave Daigle, who leads communications for some of the CDC’s preparedness work, released a campaign to raise the public’s awareness about the need to prepare for a potential emergency, such as a terrorist attack, flood, or earthquake. He was frustrated that the CDC had used the same messages every year to promote awareness of the importance of being prepared with little effect. “We have a great message here about preparedness, and I don’t have to tell you that preparedness and public health are not the sexiest topics,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic at the time.1 So he took a bold and creative approach to gain attention for a serious problem: humor.

The CDC started with a blog post, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse,” that made the case that if you can protect yourself from the living dead, you can also survive a fire or earthquake.2 It was smart, funny, relevant, and connected—all the things a great campaign aspires to. Within minutes of its publication, more than 30,000 people tried to read the post, causing the CDC’s website to crash. The post trended on Twitter worldwide and was covered by CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

Following its viral success, the CDC launched a social media campaign informing people of how to prepare for a disaster by creating an emergency kit. The campaign had the tagline “Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Prepared.” In this case, the CDC wasn’t simply trying to raise awareness. There was a clear call to action—to make a kit. Using comedy and pop culture, the CDC was able to reach hundreds of thousands of people, and it certainly raised awareness—at least about the campaign.

But did extensive awareness and exposure lead people to actually make a kit? Julia Fraustino, a strategic communication and public relations scholar at West Virginia University, would say no. Fraustino wondered whether a campaign like the CDC’s could change behavior, so she designed a study to see whether campaigns that used humor to get people’s attention and increased awareness would also get them to act.3 Fraustino discovered what she called “a zombie dilemma.” In her paper, Fraustino wrote, “The CDC health communicator … and secondary campaign evaluation materials revealed that the campaign aimed to create buzz and awareness rather than behavioral change. Consistent with this goal, the campaign was found to facilitate a sense of community and support, be effective in garnering viewership, and be cost effective.”

Not only do campaigns fall short and waste resources when they focus solely on raising awareness, but sometimes they can actually end up doing more harm than good.

But in her experiment, Fraustino found that people exposed to similarly humorous messages were less likely to get prepared than those who saw messages that weren’t funny. Fraustino believes that may be due to the very thing that made the campaign so popular: comedy. She believes that the zombie messaging actually led people to take disaster preparedness less seriously. Hence the “zombie dilemma”: The very humor that made the campaign popular may also have diluted its effectiveness.

When Awareness Campaigns Reach the Wrong Audience

The second risk that poorly devised awareness campaigns have is that they reach a different audience than the one that was intended. This might be an audience that is unsympathetic to the campaign’s goals or one that might already be convinced of its goals.

In the paper “The rise of seafood awareness campaigns in an era of collapsing fisheries,” Jennifer Jacquet, an environmental studies professor at New York University, and Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the Institute for the Ocean Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, examined the effectiveness of seafood awareness campaigns that used food labels to reduce consumers’ consumption of certain overfished seafood.4

Food labels that help buyers determine when they are making an environmentally conscious choice seem like a smart way to help consumers make better choices at the time they are purchasing the item. Unfortunately, in this instance, labeling certain fish as ecofriendly had little effect on most consumers. The labels did not diminish the demand for overfished seafood. In fact, the only people who were found to be influenced by the labels already belonged to environmental organizations.

What’s even more troubling is that eco-friendly labeling has produced an economic incentive for seafood companies and fishermen to deceive consumers by changing the names of their products and co-opting the eco-friendly label. “Sharks, considered undesirable in Ecuadorian city markets, are filleted, relabeled and sold instead as weak fishes or even tuna,” wrote the authors. “Using DNA testing, [researchers] found that three-quarters of the fish sold in the US as ‘Red snapper’ belong to a species other than Lutjanus campechanus, ‘the’ Red snapper (in the United States).” The researchers also found that more than 50 percent of environmental advertising on seafood products is misleading. In this instance, the awareness campaign reached consumers who were already likely to avoid overfished species, and it actually created an incentive for unethical fisheries to mislabel their products.

When Awareness Creates Harm

If the aim of a campaign is to encourage people to behave in new ways, it is important to take a look at behavioral science that can lend insight into how a particular audience might perceive a message, lest you do more harm than good. Take, for instance, the Dumb Ways to Die campaign in Australia.5

In November 2012, it seemed like the lyrics “Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die” were leaking out of the iPad of every teen. The song was created for the campaign by Victoria Rail to reduce the number of people who died by stepping in front of Metro trains out of Melbourne. The video and accompanying game are charming, with an indie-style earworm and characters that make macabre deaths adorable. The strangely cheerful and catchy song topped iTunes lists of most-downloaded songs in 28 countries, and the video has more than 144 million YouTube views. That’s impressive reach by any standard.

The campaign is also one of the most awarded in the history of advertising, receiving five Grands Prix at the 2013 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The strategy was to create an ad that was entertaining and didn’t repel people with a sad message as so many public service announcements do. In terms of awareness, the campaign knocked it out of the park. Advertising Age reported that the campaign earned more than $60 million in media impressions and that millions signed a pledge to be safer around trains. Metro said the campaign resulted in a 21 percent drop in deaths the following year.6

But there’s one coveted award the campaign didn’t earn: the one for creative effectiveness. The Cannes judges weren’t convinced that the campaign was responsible for the decline in rail accidents that followed the campaign’s launch. Those millions of views may not have translated to specific behavior change. In fact, only one of the campaign’s four stated objectives included any specific change in behavior, which was to “See a reduction of near misses and accidents at level crossings and station platforms over 12 months by 10 percent.”

One juror in the effectiveness category told Mumbrella Asia, “The numbers the case study put forward, including ‘extraordinary views on Facebook,’ didn’t really correlate with the period they were measuring against or have anything significant against people around that vicinity.”7

This campaign was explicitly focused on reducing the number of rail accidents by raising awareness of safety and getting people to be more careful around trains, but accidents account for only 25 percent of the deaths associated with heavy rail in Victoria. The Melbourne newspaper The Age reported that between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, there were 46 rail deaths in Victoria, the majority of which were suicides. A 2010 article in the journal Injury Prevention cites a rate of rail suicide in Victoria that was higher than the rate for the rest of the population in Australia, and The Age reported that from 2012 to 2014, more than one person was struck by a train every week.8 The TrackSAFE Foundation, an advocacy group focused on reducing rail-related deaths throughout the country, reports that there are 150 rail suicides in Australia each year, and nearly 1,000 attempts. In June 2014, The Age reported, “Suicide by train has become so common Metro plans to build a dedicated train wash, called a ‘biopit,’ to clean train exteriors after a person is hit.”

It is worth considering that the video’s charming figures and catchy hook may have actually made death seem more appealing or normal to those already at risk. Death in cartoon form is certainly temporary and painless. At a minimum, the campaign does little to address a context that included an already abnormally high suicide rate, much to the concern of public health and mental health officials in the country.

In fact, one Metro official’s comments about the campaign suggest that concerns about suicide weren’t among the risks that she and her team contemplated pre-launch: “Before the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ concept was presented, there was a pre-sell phone call. ‘We’re doing a song,’ said our group account director. My response: ‘I’m hanging up.’ Fearing a tacky jingle, I was pleasantly surprised that this ‘song’ concept was exactly what we were looking for. Sure, it was different and had the words ‘dumb’ and ‘death’ in the headline, but it just worked, the warmth of the creative balanced out the negativity of the consequences,” Leah Waymark, general manager, corporate relations for Metro told Advertising Age a year after the campaign launched.

This is worrisome given that communications science scholars, public health officials, sociologists, and psychologists have reported on the influence that media can have in normalizing death, suicide, and violence as something common, cool, or even charming, but most important, not permanent. A much-cited paper by David Phillips in the American Sociological Review supports what scholars call the “Werther Effect”—that newspaper coverage of suicide is associated with higher suicide rates in their communities.9 Later work shows a clustering of suicides after television news coverage of suicide.

Unfortunately, it is uncommon for practitioners to conduct a review of academic literature as part of the early stages of any effort. Campaigns rooted in research are far more likely to conduct new research by testing their messages or surveying a target audience about their likelihood of acting. The gulf between scholarship that could help practitioners avoid harm, reduce risk, or increase the effectiveness of their efforts and practice is common and wide.

When Awareness Leads to Backlash

Raising awareness also gets dicey when issues have the potential to generate controversy. When issues are complicated by partisan politics, for example, the message may be vulnerable to backlash and slow down or halt progress on an issue. This was the case in a public policy initiative in support of the HPV vaccine.

In 2006, the CDC recommended a national requirement that adolescent girls get vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. The recommendation, and the national lobbying campaign that followed, pushed for a state mandate that required the HPV vaccine for school enrollment. It followed US Food and Drug Administration approval earlier that year for Gardasil, an HPV vaccine. Gardasil, produced by Merck, was the first drug to hit the market, due to a concerted and highly public effort to fast-track the drug so that it could establish Merck’s dominance in the market.

A mandate that preteen girls be vaccinated against HPV became a political battleground because some social conservatives believed that the legislation was a gateway to sexual promiscuity. Prior to the controversy, 90 percent of children received the vaccine, but in the years that followed, only 33 percent of girls received it, and just 7 percent of boys did.

Research tells us that people believe information about vaccine risks and benefits that supports their cultural and political values. Political polarization increases as the news media report on the topic and advocates raise its profile. When this happens, people are exposed to cues that signal “sides” of the issue and that either resonate with their beliefs or threaten how they see themselves and the world. So it’s not surprising that a public campaign for a government-mandated vaccine to protect adolescent girls from a sexually transmitted disease would create cultural controversy. Government regulation, check. Reproductive rights, check. Children and sexuality, check and check.

Could this story have turned out differently? Yale University professor Dan Kahan, who researched the program, says yes. If there had not been a high-profile lobbying campaign to fast-track Gardasil, the vaccine would have slowly been introduced to boys and girls through their personal physicians and existing programs that provide access to childhood vaccinations, a more traditional path for introducing new vaccines, similar to the introduction of the hepatitis B vaccine (HBV).10 In the end, the HPV campaign probably did more harm than good by leading to a reduction in the number of children who received the vaccine.

Creating Awareness That Leads to Action

To move the needle on the issues we care about the most, research and experience both show that we must define actionable and achievable calls to action that will lead a specific group of people to do something they haven’t done before. That is the approach that the communications consulting firm Spitfire Strategies takes when working with its clients.

In every consulting project that Spitfire works on, Spitfire President Kristen Grimm and her team work to get nonprofit leaders to identify concrete goals for their work. Grimm is convinced that by focusing on what you want changed, you can identify a call to action whether you are working to make teens stop texting and driving, helping people make healthier choices, or working on issues where solutions are less obvious, such as addressing implicit bias or income inequality.

Here at the University of Florida College of Journalism, we’re building an academic discipline called “public interest communications,” which we define as the development and implementation of science-based, planned strategic communication campaigns with the goal of achieving significant and sustained positive behavioral change or action on an issue that transcends the particular interests of any single organization.11

There are four essential elements to creating a successful public interest communications campaign: target your audience as narrowly as possible; create compelling messages with clear calls to action; develop a theory of change; and use the right messenger. We will explore each of these four elements in the following sections.

Target Your Audience as Narrowly as Possible

One of the most important tasks in crafting a public interest communications campaign is to identify your target audience—the individuals or groups whose action or behavior change will be most important to helping you achieve your goal. One of the best examples of this approach is a case that didn’t begin as public interest communications but certainly had lasting implications for freedom of speech.

In 1932, Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House Publishing, acquired the rights to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses in the United States, believing that the book would be as successful as it had been throughout Europe. But Cerf had a problem. The book was banned in the United States and would be seized as soon as it came off the printing press, which would lose Cerf millions of dollars. And because of the ban, there were several pirated versions of the books floating around that threatened the original text.

Cerf and his attorney, Morris Ernst, could have launched a campaign to raise Americans’ awareness of the literary significance of the book or the harms of censorship. They could also have printed the book in the face of the ban, which might have generated headlines. But that would have brought them no closer to getting the ban removed. They chose a different path.

To move the needle on the issues we care about the most, research and experience both show that we must define actionable and achievable calls to action.

Ernst identified a US District Court judge in New York City, John Woolsey, who was known for his support of the First Amendment and who had struck down several rulings on obscenity. Then Cerf and Ernst hired a man to board the Aquitania ocean liner in Europe with a copy of Ulysses in his bag and disembark in New York City, where the book would be impounded by customs, and the smuggling case would make it to Woolsey’s courtroom. Cerf and Ernst knew that no additional documents would be considered in the case and that only what was contained between the book’s covers would be admissible as evidence. So they stuffed a copy of the book with every piece of literary critique they could find—including an essay by writer Ezra Pound—citing the book’s contribution to literature.

As expected, the man and his copy of Ulysses were detained at customs, and the case went to court in fall 1933. In his decision, United States v. One Book Named Ulysses, Woolsey wrote, “Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic to the detail of the picture which Joyce is seeking to construct for his readers.” Cerf and Ernst won the case, and the book was on the press within 10 minutes of the ruling. Their sophisticated approach to the problem not only brought one of the world’s most important pieces of literature to the United States, but also resulted in what Ernst called “a bodyblow for the censors.”

Cerf continued to fight against censorship of important literature, and Ernst went on to become one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Their story provides a critical lesson for social change: When you are clear about your goal and find the right strategy, your target audience may be as narrow as a single person.

Create Compelling Messages With Clear Calls to Action

It’s important to develop a comprehensive understanding not only of the audience you are trying to reach and what will resonate with them, but also of the complexity of the issue you are trying to affect and its context. It is particularly important to craft campaign messages, stories, and calls to action that do not threaten how an audience sees itself or its values. Research into how your target audience forms opinions and who influences them will also drive your communication strategy, directing you toward potential partnerships, messages, and stories.

For Cerf and Ernst, focusing on their audience meant identifying and swaying a single judge. It’s easy to look at that case as an outlier, but consider social issues that have a much larger audience. Take the “Let’s Move” campaign, launched by former first lady Michelle Obama.12 This highly strategic campaign is rooted in the deep body of research about the causes of childhood obesity and driven by the social science about how to communicate effectively on health issues. A campaign that could have focused solely on getting kids to eat less instead looked at research on the underlying causes of obesity.

The first lady started with policies that would ensure that kids got healthier meals at school. Rather than promoting the health dangers of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, she focused on getting kids to drink more water. Rather than vilifying the food industry, Obama worked with industry to reduce fat, sodium, and sugar in foods such as breakfast cereal and macaroni and cheese. And she’s changing how people see what they eat, with new food labeling laws that will increase transparency and will start appearing in 2018. It appears that the campaign is working. Childhood obesity is no longer increasing, and among children between the ages of 2 and 5, it’s dropped by nearly half.

Compare that approach with the “Just Say No” campaign launched by former first lady Nancy Reagan.13 Just Say No was essentially an education program, as solid an example of a campaign rooted in the information deficit model as one could hope to find. Just Say No supported programs like DARE, which brought police officers into schools to educate kids about the dangers of drugs. Today the program is effective because it emphasizes helping kids role-play the kinds of conversations they might have when confronted with the opportunity to use drugs. But in its original version, which was more focused on generating fear of the consequences of using drugs, evaluations showed that kids who went through the program were actually more likely to use drugs and alcohol as they got older, not less. Fortunately, external evaluation made it possible to course-correct the program.

Part of the reason Let’s Move is working is because of the specific calls to action for each audience. Telling people what you want them to do is critical, but an effective call to action is not just a restatement of an overarching goal. Denver Water’s “Use Only What You Need” campaign did this brilliantly. The purpose of that campaign was to get residents to reduce their water use. Dozens of groups have tried and failed to get people to conserve water. But Denver Water’s call to action to “use only what you need” doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It’s a positive way to urge people to avoid waste. And they backed their campaign up with precise calls to action, such as “Water two minutes less.”

In addition, the city of Denver created a context for success by replacing 10,000 public school toilets with more water-efficient ones and moving to tiered pricing to reward lower water use. After nine years, Denver residents’ water use dropped to a 40-year low, equaling what people were using in 1973 when the city had 350,000 fewer residents.14 While we were unable to find any external evaluation of the campaign, we can see why it might have worked: a clear and compelling call to action delivered in an appealing way to a carefully considered target audience.

Develop a Theory of Change

Identifying the right target audience and delivering a clear call to action that people will act on isn’t dark magic. It requires having a theory of change—a methodology or road map for how you will achieve change that includes objectives, tactics, and evaluation— and knowing the issue well enough to know where change will have its greatest effect.

Tying a communications strategy to a theory of change helps ensure that your communications efforts are tied to overarching goals, not simply focused on promotion or awareness. Building a strong theory of change requires the same elements that a solid, action-oriented communications plan does: a clear goal, a clear understanding of what will be different and what will cause it to change, and an understanding of what will influence people to act.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott provides just such an example. Most people know about Rosa Parks’s role in that story. But there was another woman behind the boycott whose understanding of strategy, message, and messengers was critical to the boycott’s effectiveness. Jo Ann Robinson was a faculty member at Alabama State College in Montgomery. Just before Christmas in 1945, Robinson boarded a Montgomery, Ala., city bus to head to the airport to visit family up north for the holidays. The bus was nearly empty, and Robinson chose one of the seats toward the middle of the bus—seats that were designated for white riders if the bus was full, but that blacks could use when the bus was empty. As she sat, the driver came toward her with his arm raised. Humiliated, Robinson ran from the bus.

Robinson never forgot the pain of that day. When she became president of Montgomery’s Women’s Political Caucus, she wrote a letter to the mayor, urging him to address three specific issues faced by black riders. “Mayor Gayle,” Robinson wrote, “Three-fourths of the riders of these public conveyances are Negroes. If Negroes did not patronize them, they could not possibly operate. More and more of our people are already arranging with neighbors and friends to ride to keep from being insulted and humiliated by bus drivers.”

Identifying the right target audience and delivering a clear call to action that people will act on isn’t dark magic. It requires having a theory of change.

Robinson’s letter went unanswered, and so she waited for the right moment for the threatened boycott. It seemed as though the moment arrived in spring 1955 when 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to surrender her bus seat, but Colvin swore at the police as she was arrested, and Robinson feared that the community would not rally around her. Later that year, another young woman was arrested for the same offense, and still Robinson waited. But on Thursday, December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks quietly declined to give up her seat, Robinson knew the moment had come. Parks was highly regarded in Montgomery, and her long history in the civil rights movement had won her both credibility and affection.

Identifying the right target audience and delivering a clear call to action that people will act on isn’t dark magic. It requires having a theory of change.

As soon as Robinson heard that Parks had been arrested, she went to her office and typed up a flyer calling on blacks to boycott the city’s buses. Robinson and her students made 50,000 copies of the flyer and stayed up most of the night cutting and bundling them. The next morning, she and her students got the bundles into the hands of influential and well-connected blacks throughout the city. On Saturday, Martin Luther King Jr., released his own flyer. The boycott on the following Monday was so successful that civil rights leaders voted to continue the boycott until a US Supreme Court case on the topic was decided. The boycott lasted 381 days, starting the day of Parks’s court hearing and ending the day that the Supreme Court decided in favor of ending segregation on public transportation.

Robinson had a theory of change: She knew that a boycott would provide critical pressure because blacks made up 75 percent of bus riders, and that if she could get all of them to participate, the company would have to accede to their requests or suffer huge financial losses. She also understood that the boycott had to have the right emotional impetus—one that would be powerful enough to sustain the protests for months. Because Parks was known and beloved, Robinson knew that her arrest for failing to give up her seat would inspire others to boycott in a way that Colvin’s would not. It was a theory of change that worked.

Use the Right Messenger

Robinson intuited something else that research would bear out decades later. Successful public interest campaigns need a narrowly defined audience, clear calls to action, and a theory of change. But they also need one more thing—the right messenger. Robinson knew that the community would support Parks in a way that they would not support Colvin. In order to inspire and persuade people to adopt a new behavior or a new way of thinking, having the message come from people who have authority and credibility in your audience’s world matters.

Who is influential in a community is tied to whom people trust for information. And whom people trust is very much connected to how people see themselves, their values, and their identities. Social psychology tells us that if a call to action asks someone to do, believe, or represent something that runs counter to how they see themselves, or poses a risk for maintaining that vision of themselves, then they are not going to even entertain the idea.

David Sleeth-Keppler, a social psychologist at Humboldt State University, and his colleagues at ecoAmerica conducted a study to examine whom people turn to for information on climate change.15 They found that participants who were more skeptical of climate change or who had little trust in official messengers, such as scientists or politicians, turned instead to informal communicators for information about climate change. Skeptics placed their trust in religious leaders, coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors for information and solutions for climate change.

Chasing Ice, the Academy Award-winning climate change documentary that is dressed up as an action-adventure film, understood this and utilized community influencers to reach skeptical audiences. Following the release of the film, director and producer Jeff Orlowski and his team at Exposure Labs worked with a team of strategists to launch the Chasing Ice Ohio tour, a social impact campaign, in spring 2014.

The campaign sought to shift the political conversation in two ways: First, it encouraged audience members to use their voice through social media to influence friends, family, and community. Second, the campaign sought to foster a national social media campaign targeted at the Ohio congressional district of Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi, who openly denied climate change, with the goal that he would change his position on the issue (which he eventually did).

From the beginning, the team targeted a particular segment of Ohio residents: constituents from Tiberi’s district, faith leaders, the agricultural community, recreational sports enthusiasts, and politicians. They understood that they would need to partner with community influencers to reach audiences that would otherwise not see the film and participate in the campaign. They held 90 screenings and Q&A sessions across Ohio with Orlowski and the Chasing Ice team. These sessions sought to connect the dots between climate change worldwide and the impact of these changes on Ohio communities.

A report on the film’s impact notes, “Faith-based groups such as the Evangelical Environmental network, Catholic Climate Covenant, and Interfaith Power and Light were extremely important strategic partnerships due to their large number of conservative members.16 Cultivating these partnerships meant getting the film to members of the district who might not normally have been open to a film on climate change. By working with these faithbased groups, the team members were able to collaborate with local religious leaders who already had established language to reach out to congregations in order to share the film and the local call to action. One screening movingly resulted in a pastor leading a prayer for Tiberi to acknowledge the science of climate change.” By working with influencers in these traditionally skeptical communities, the campaign was able to reach a new audience and saw success in shifting climate beliefs.

Put Accelerant on the Fire of Change

Effective and strategic communication is fundamental to any effective campaign. It’s a bit like gasoline poured on a flame. The fire flares, and you can no longer separate the flame from its fuel. But the flame becomes large enough to spread. If your idea, your goal, or your plan is a flame, effective and strategic communication will make that idea spread.

How lucky the world is that Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and the suffragettes recognized the role that strategic communications plays in driving change. And how lucky we are to be alive in a moment when we can bring together the best of what we know from academic research and behavioral science, along with an extensive history of practice to craft campaigns that move beyond simply raising awareness of an issue to getting people and organizations to drive lasting change and build a better world.

How to do an Audience Analysis

This article was curated from COMPASS

An audience analysis is a process used to identify and understand the priority and influencing audiences for a SBCC strategy. The priority and influencing audiences are those people whose behavior must change in order to improve the health situation. A complete audience analysis looks at: 

  • Socio-demographic characteristics such as sex, age, language and religion.
  • Geographic characteristics like where the audience lives and how that might impact behavior.
  • Psychographic characteristics such as needs, hopes, concerns and aspirations.
  • Audience thoughts, beliefs, knowledge and current actions related to the health or social issue. 
  • Barriers and facilitators that prevent or encourage audience members to adopt the desired behavior change.
  • Gender and how it impacts audience members’ behavior and ability to change.
  • Effective communication channels for reaching the audience.
Why Conduct an Audience Analysis? 

An audience analysis informs the design of materials, messages, media selection and activities of a SBCC strategy. It establishes a clear, detailed and realistic picture of the audience. As a result, messages and activities are more likely to resonate with the audience and lead to the desired change in behaviors.

Who Should Conduct an Audience Analysis? 

A small, focused team should conduct the audience analysis. Members should include communication staff, health/social service staff and, when available, research staff.

Stakeholders should also be involved throughout the process. Consider effective ways to engage stakeholders to gain feedback and input, including: in-depth interviewsfocus group discussions, community dialogue, small group meetings, taskforce engagement and participatory stakeholder workshops

When Should Audience Analysis Be Conducted?

An audience analysis should be conducted at the beginning of a program or project, in conjunction with a situation analysis and program analysis. The team should start thinking about the audience during the desk review and fill in any gaps during the stakeholder workshop. It is part of the Inquiry phase of the P Process. 

Estimated Time Needed

Completing an audience analysis can take up to three to four weeks. When estimating time, consider the existing audience-related data, what gaps need to be filled and whether additional stakeholder or audience input is needed. Allow for additional time if formative research is needed to fill in any gaps that may exist in the literature.

Learning Objectives

After completing the activities in the audience analysis guide, the team will: 

  • Determine the priority audience. 
  • Determine the influencing audience(s). 
  • Describe the priority and influencing audience(s).
  • Develop an audience profile for each priority and influencing audience(s).



Step 1: Identify Potential Audience(s)

To address the problem statement and achieve the vision decided upon during the situation analysis, brainstorm and list all potential audiences that are affected by or have control over the health or social problem. For example, if the problem is high unmet need for family planning, potential audiences may be:

Step 2: Select the Priority Audience

An effective SBCC strategy must focus on the most important audience. The priority audience is not always the most affected audience, but is the group of people whose behavior must change in order to improve the health situation. The number of priority audiences depends mainly on the number of audiences whose practice of the behavior will significantly impact the problem. For example, priority audiences may be:

To identify the priority audience(s), keep in mind the vision and health or social problem. Then consider:

  • Who is most affected
  • How many people are in the audience
  • How important it is that the audience change their behavior
  • How likely it is that the audience will change their behavior
  • Who controls the behavior or the resources required for a behavior change

Step 3: Identify Priority Audience Characteristics

Identify the socio-demographic, geographic and psychographic characteristics of each priority audience. Include their communication preferences and other opportunities to reach them. 

Organize priority audience information in a table (see Audience Characteristics and Behavioral Factors Template under templates).

Step 4: Identify Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices

Understand what the priority audience knows, thinks, feels and does about the problem in order to determine the audiences’ stage of behavior change. This allows the program to tailor messages and activities based on the audience’s knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.

There are a number of ideational factors that commonly influence individual behavior and should be considered when examining the audience’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

The situation analysis, stakeholder workshop and any additional quantitative or qualitative research will indicate what the priority audience currently does in reference to the problem and what the audience knows, thinks and feels about the problem or desired behavior. Keeping in mind the ideational factors, examine that research to understand each priority audience. Ask questions such as:

  • What does the priority audience already know (knowledge) about the problem?
  • How does the priority audience feel about the problem (attitude)?
  • How does the priority audience see their role with respect to the problem (self-image)?
  • Does the priority audience feel at risk of having the problem? How at risk do they feel (risk perception)?
  • What are the community’s beliefs and attitudes toward the health problem (social norms)?
  • How capable does the priority audience feel about being able to take action to address the problem (self-efficacy)?
  • What emotional reaction does the priority audience have towards the health problem (emotions)?
  • What level of support does the priority audience believe they would receive from family members or the community (social support and influence)?
  • How capable does the priority audience feel about discussing how to reduce the problem (personal advocacy)? 

Add this information to the table (see Audience Characteristics and Behavioral Factors Template under templates).

Step 5: Identify Barriers and Facilitators

It is crucial to know what prevents or encourages the priority audience to practice the desired behavior. Identify barriers and facilitators of change in the literature and list them in the table (see Audience Characteristics and Behavioral Factors Template under templates).If the desk review does not adequately identify behavioral factors, conduct additional qualitative research (interviews, focus groups) with members of the priority audience. Some important barriers to consider include:

  • Habit: People are comfortable doing things the same way they have always done them.
  • Fear: People expect change to bring negative consequences.
  • Negative experience: Some audiences may have had a bad experience, such as with the health care system, and thus may be cynical or resistant to change.

If the desired behavior requires adopting/utilizing products or services, consider issues of availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability.


Step 6: Consider Audience Segmentation

Audience segmentation is the process of dividing the priority audience into sub groups according to at least one similar characteristic that will affect the success of the SBCC effort.  Look at the selected priority audience and decide if it is similar enough that it can be effectively reached by the same set of channelsmessages and interventions. Ask the following questions about the priority audience to decide if segmentation is necessary:

  • Are any audience members particularly difficult to reach, requiring a different set of channels?
  • Do any audience members have distinct views or concerns about the problem?
  • Do any audience members require a different message to reach them effectively?
  • Are any audience members at greater risk? 

If yes, the audience may need to be segmented further.  See the audience segmentation guide for more information on how to identify and prioritize audiences so that messages and interventions can be most effectively targeted.  

Some urban women of reproductive age may have different concerns or views about family planning. One group might be afraid of side effects while another group does not use family planning because they do not know where family planning services are available. These groups would require different messages and interventions and should be segmented if resources allow.

Step 7: Identify Key Influencers

Based on the priority or segmented audience, identify the key influencers. Search the situation analysisstakeholder workshop and any qualitative research findings for indications of who strongly influences the priority audience’s behavior (see Audience Focused Literature Review Chart Template under templates). Influencers can be individuals or groups. Their different roles – as friends, family, leaders, teachers, health providers and of course, the media – often determine their level of influence. Consider the following factors to help identify influencing audiences:

  • Who has the most impact on the priority audience’s health-related behavior and what is their relationship to the priority audience?
  • Who makes or shapes the priority audience’s decisions in the problem area?
  • Who influences the priority audience’s behavior positively and who influences it negatively?

Step 8: Organize Influencing Audience Information

For each influencing audience identified, search the literature to identify information about them and their relationship to the priority audience. Look for:

  • How strongly the group influences the priority audience
  • What behaviors they encourage the priority audience to practice
  • Why they would encourage or discourage the desired behavior
  • How to reach them

Organize information on influencing audiences in another table for later use in the SBCC strategy (see Influencing Audiences Template under templates):

Step 9: Develop Audience Profiles

Review the notes about each audience and try to tell the story of that person. Audience profiles bring audience segments to life by telling the story of an imagined individual from the audience.

The audience profile consists of a paragraph with details on current behaviors, motivation, emotions, values and attitudes, as well as information such as age, income level, religion, sex and where they live. The profile should reflect the primary barriers the audience faces in adopting the desired behavior. Include a name and photo to help the creative team visualize who the person is. Answers to the following questions can lead to insightful profiles that help the team understand and reach audiences more effectively: 

The audience profiles will feed directly into the creative brief process and will be an integral part of the SBCC strategy. See the Samples section for an example of an audience profile.


Audience Characteristics and Behavioral Factors Template

Audience-Focused Literature Review Template

Influencing Audience Template


Sample Audience Profile

Tips & Recommendations

  • Talk to audience members. Do not rely solely on the project team’s beliefs or what program staff and health workers say or assume about the audiences.
  • Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. To truly understand what audiences know, think and feel, set aside assumptions and preconceived notions. 
  • Work in teams. The collaboration among team members (four or five people recommended) will provide richer and deeper insights into the issues. If possible, include people who have direct experience working or living in the community. 
  • Find other ways to gather information. It is important to recognize that some documents may have information gaps that will require additional inquiries (formative research) to fully understand the potential audience. Interviews with local experts (e.g. medical and public health staff) can help explain the issue and identify those most at risk or affected by it.
  • Incorporate the communication channels prioritized during the stakeholder workshop. Also consider other opportunities to reach audiences, such as places (e.g., schools, clinics) and events (e.g., health fairs, community events). SBCC strategies can take advantage of such opportunities to connect with audience members about the topic.
  • The priority audience’s perception about how the community views an issue may differ from how the community actually views the issue. The perception of what the family/community thinks often will be the deciding factor when it comes to taking a health action. This can prevent the individual from taking the best action. Addressing the misperceptions with your program or campaign could lead to a more successful behavior change intervention than one that does not address misperceptions.
  • Audience profiles should represent the experience of real people. This will help the program team better understand the audiences they are trying to reach and ensure that audience members see themselves in the messages developed for them.
  • No two audience profiles should look the same; the best profiles use qualitative research as a source. Profiles are living documents that should be updated when new information becomes available. 

Lessons Learned

  • Designing messages and activities with shared characteristics in mind increases the likelihood of audience members identifying with the issue and feeling able to address it.

Glossary & Concepts

  • Priority audience refers to a group of people whose behavior must change in order to improve the health situation. It is the most important group to address because they have the power to make changes the SBCC campaign calls for. Sometimes this is also referred to as the intended audience.
  • An influencing audience is made up of those people who have the most significant and direct influence (positive or negative) over the priority audience. The influencing audience can exist at different levels: at the family level, community level (e.g. peers, relatives, teachers, community or faith-based leaders) or national or regional level (e.g. policy makers, media personnel, government leaders). 
  • Demographic information is statistical data (e.g. age, sex, education level, income level, geographic location) relating to a population and specific sub-groups of that population.
  • Psychographics are the attributes that describe personality, attitudes, beliefs, values, emotions and opinions. Psychographic characteristics or factors relate to the psychology or behavior of the audience.
  • Ideation refers to how new ways of thinking (or new behaviors) are diffused through a community by means of communication and social interaction among individuals and groups. Behavior is influenced by multiple social and psychological factors, as well as skills and environmental conditions that facilitate behavior. 
  • Ideational factors are grouped into three categories: cognitive, emotional and social. Cognitive factors address an individual’s beliefs, values and attitudes (such as risk perceptions), as well as how an individual perceives what others think should be done (subjective norms), what the individual thinks others are actually doing (social norms) and how the individual thinks about him/herself (self-image). Emotional factors include how an individual feels about the new behavior (positive or negative) as well as how confident a person feels that they can perform the behavior (self-efficacy). Social factors consist of interpersonal interactions (such as support or pressure from friends) that convince someone to behave in a certain way, as well as the effect on an individual’s behavior from trying to persuade others to adopt the behavior as well (personal advocacy).
  • Gender refers to the socially and culturally constructed roles and responsibilities deemed appropriate for men and women. Such constructions influence how males and females behave. In many cases, the way a community defines gender roles and expectations disadvantages women and girls. For example, if community norms dictate that boys should eat meat and vegetables while girls get rice and porridge, mothers will have difficulty ensuring that girls get enough of the right foods to be healthy.
  • Barriers to change prevent or make it difficult to adopt a behavior. Barriers come in many forms – emotional, societal, structural, educational, familial, etc. 
  • Facilitators of change make it easier to adopt a behavior. As with barriers, they can take many forms. 

Resources and References


A Field Guide to Designing a Health Communication Strategy

Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign

Leadership in Strategic Communication: Making a Difference in Infectious Disease and Reproductive Health


The Transtheoretical Model

Theories of Behavior Change



Is information what people need?

This article first appeared on Freakonomics radio

The interesting take-aways for LGBTI campaigners:

  • Information is used by people depending on their existing views: The same piece of information, or explainer video, or real-life story, etc. will be used to REINFORCE attitudes, including negative ones, rather than challenge them.  It was pretty clear so far that information alone doesn’t change people. This article suggests it might even be counter-productive!
  • People live in closed social circles with people who are like them, so influencing others is increasingly difficult. OK, we all know this. But while it will be near impossible to get homo/transphobic people into an LGBTI-supportive group, it is much easier to get them into an unrelated group (say on fashion or make up or cooking or traditional handicraft) that will be LGBTI supportive when the time comes. It’s much more beneficial to invest into finding these groups than trying to get your target group to come to your “obvious” platform.
  • “The equivalent of 10-year-old lab rats hate broccoli as much as 10-year-old humans do. In late adolescence, early adulthood, there’s this sudden craving for novelty … And then by the time you’re a middle-aged adult rat, you’re never going to try anything new for the rest of your life.” Don’t waste your time. Concentrate on the period in life when we’re genetically engineered to explore new territories (physical or mental).
  • One of the key barriers to change is overconfidence in their own opinions. Rather than avoid the conversation or “bust the myths” by providing the “correct information” yourself, ask people to explain their own attitude and they will start loosing confidence because chances are that they won’t be able to come up with something totally convincing. And when they are off-balance, change can happen.

Full article:

Here’s an interesting fact: legislators in several Republican-controlled states are pushing to eliminate the death penalty. Why is that interesting? Because most Republicans have typically been in favor of the death penalty. They’ve said it’s a deterrent against the most horrific crimes and a fitting penalty when such crimes do occur.

But a lot of Republicans have come to believe the death penalty does not deter crime — which happens to be an argument we offered evidence for in Freakonomics. They also say the lengthy legal appeals on death-penalty cases are too costly for taxpayers. Some Republicans also cite moral concerns with the death penalty. So, a lot of them have changed their minds.

We’ve all changed our minds at some point, about something. Maybe you were a cat person and became a dog person. Maybe you decided the place you lived, or the person you loved, or the religion you followed just wasn’t working for you anymore. But changing your mind is rarely easy. Although if you’re like most people, you would very much like other people to change their minds, to think more like you. Because, as you see it, it’s impossible for the world to progress, to improve unless some people are willing to change their minds.

On this week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio: how to change minds, or at least try to.

Robert Sapolsky is a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University. He describes himself as half-neurobiologist and half-primatologist; he studies both neurons in petri dishes and wild baboons in East Africa. Sapolsky has a lot of experience with changing his mind. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew before he decided, at age 14, that “[t]here’s no God, there’s no free will, there is no purpose.” He used to be a classical music snob; then he married a musical-theater fanatic and director. Today, he often serves as rehearsal pianist for his wife’s productions.

Sapolsky has noticed something about mind-changing: it’s easier to do when you’re younger. In a survey he put together to look at people’s preferences in food, music, and so on, Sapolsky found that people do indeed become less open to novelty as they get older. Someone who hasn’t eaten sushi by age 35, for example, likely never will. He also found that humans are not the only animals that exhibit this behavioral pattern.

“[Y]ou take a lab rat and you look at when in its life it’s willing to try a novel type of food — and it’s the exact same curve!” Sapolsky says. “The equivalent of 10-year-old lab rats hate broccoli as much as 10-year-old humans do. In late adolescence, early adulthood, there’s this sudden craving for novelty … And then by the time you’re a middle-aged adult rat, you’re never going to try anything new for the rest of your life.”

There are a lot of reasons why it may be easier to change your mind when you’re younger. It could be the fact that your brain is simply more plastic then — something scientists assumed for a long time but now are starting to question. Or it could be that your positions are less entrenched, so it’s less costly to change them.

Or it could be that the stakes are lower: the fate of the world doesn’t hinge on whether you are pro-broccoli or anti-broccoli. But as life goes on, as the stakes rise, changing your mind can get more costly.

Several years before the United States invaded Iraq, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, signed onto a letter in support of such a move. At the time, Fukuyama was well-established as a prominent political thinker. In addition to writing a landmark book, he’s done two stints in the State Department. So his views on the Iraq War were taken seriously.

But as the invasion drew near, Fukuyama started to have second thoughts.

“My main concern was whether the United States was ready to actually stay in Iraq and convert it into a kind of stable, decent country,” Fukuyama says. “But even I was astonished at how bad the planning had been, and how faulty the assumptions were, that we were going to be greeted as liberators and that there would be a rapid transition just like in Eastern Europe to something that looked like democracy.”

In February of 2004, Fukuyama attended a dinner at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. The featured speaker was Dick Cheney. The crowd greeted the then-vice president with a big round of applause.

“And I just looked around at the people at my table and I said, ‘Why are these people clapping?’” Fukuyama says. “Because clearly this thing is turning into a huge fiasco. And that’s the moment that I decided, you know, these people are really nuts. I mean, they’re so invested in seeing this as a success that they can’t see this reality that’s just growing right in front of their eyes.”

Fukuyama paid a heavy price for his change of heart on the Iraq War. He was seen as having abandoned the neoconservative movement and lost close friends in the process. But to this day, he is surprised that so few of the supporters of the war remain unwilling to admit it was a mistake.

There’s another factor that may contribute to our reluctance to change our minds: overconfidence — our own belief that we are right, even in the absence of evidence. Just how much unearned confidence is floating around out there?

Consider a recent study by Julia Shvets, an economist at Christ’s College, Cambridge who studies decision-making. She and some colleagues surveyed over 200 managers at a British restaurant chain. The managers averaged more than two years on the job and their compensation was strongly tied to a quarterly performance bonus. The managers were asked to recall their past performance and to predict their future performance.

Shvets found that only about 35% of the managers were able to correctly say whether they fell in the top 20% of all managers, or the bottom 20%, or another 20%block somewhere in the middle. Forty-seven percent of managers were overconfident about their standing.

And these were people who had detailed feedback about their performance every quarter, which is a lot more than most employees get. How could this be? This is where memory comes into play, or maybe you’d call it optimism — or delusion.

“People who did worse in the previous competition tended to remember slightly better outcomes. People seem to be exaggerating their own past performance in their head when this performance is bad,” Shvets explains. “So what we conclude from this is that people, when given information about their past performance, use memory selectively. They remember good outcomes and they tend to forget bad ones.”

So maybe it’s not so much that people refuse to change their minds — or refuse to “update their priors,” as economists like to say. Maybe they just have self-enhancing selective memories.

Sothere are a lot of reasons why a given person might be reluctant to change their mind about a given thing. Selective memory, overconfidence, or the cost of losing family or friends. But let’s say you remain committed to changing minds — your own or someone else’s. How do you get that done? The secret may lie not in a grand theoretical framework, but in small, mundane objects like toilets, zippers, and ballpoint pens.

Steven Sloman, a psychology professor at Brown, conducted an experiment asking people to explain — not reason, but to actually explain, at the nuts-and-bolts level — how something works.

Chances are, you probably can’t explain very well how a toilet or a zipper or a ballpoint pen work. But, before you were asked the question, you would have thought you could. This gap between what you know and what you think you know is called the “illusion of explanatory depth.” It was first demonstrated by psychologists Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil.

“[P]eople fail to distinguish what they know from what others know,” Sloman says. “We’re constantly depending on other people, and the actual processing that goes on is distributed among people in our community.”

In other words, someone knows how a toilet works: the plumber. And you know the plumber; or, even if you don’t know the plumber, you know how to find a plumber.

You can see how the illusion of explanatory depth could be helpful in some scenarios: you don’t need to know everything for yourself, as long as you know someone who knows someone who knows something. But you could also imagine scenarios in which the illusion could be problematic, such as in the political domain.

Sloman and his collaborator Philip Fernbach basically repeated the Rozenblit and Keil experiment, but instead of toilets and zippers, they asked people about climate change and gun control. Unsurprisingly, most people weren’t able to explain climate change policies in much detail. But here’s what’s interesting: people’s level of confidence in their understanding of issues — which participants were asked to report at the start of the experiment — was drastically reduced after they tried, and failed, to demonstrate their understanding.

“It reduced the extremity of their confidence that they were right,” Sloman says. “In other words, asking people to explain depolarized the group.”

Matthew Jackson, an economist at Stanford who studies social and economic networks, used to believe that different people, given the same kind of information, would make decisions the same way, regardless of past experiences and influences.

That, however, is not what Jackson’s research suggests. In one experiment, Jackson had a bunch of research subjects read the same batch of abstracts from scientific articles about climate change. He found that people reading the same articles could interpret the articles very differently, depending on their initial positions.

In fact, information, far from being a solution, can actually be weaponized.

“There was a group of about a quarter to a third of the subjects who actually became more polarized, who interpreted the information heavily in the direction of their priors, and actually ended up with more extreme positions after the experiment than before,” Jackson says.

In other words, a person’s priors — which are shaped by previous experiences, influences, and social networks — play a big role in shaping current beliefs and decision-making processes. Steven Sloman, the Brown professor, thinks that the third factor is particularly important.

“[W]e believe what we do because the people around us believe what they do,” Sloman says. “This is the way humanity evolved. We depend on other people.”

So if our beliefs are shaped by the people around us, one antidote to inflexible thinking is simply, balance. Unfortunately, a great many of us are quite bad at creating diverse, well-balanced networks. People are prone to surrounding themselves with people just like them.

“We end up talking to people most of the time who have very similar past experiences and similar views of the world, and we tend to underestimate that,” Matthew Jackson says. “People don’t realize how isolated their world is. You know, people wake up after an election and are quite surprised that anybody could have elected a candidate that has a different view than them.”

You can find the full Freakonomics Radio episode, “How to Change Your Mind” at Freakonomics.com. You can also listen on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or any other podcast platform.

Go to the profile of Stephen J. Dubner/ Freakonomics Radio


Stephen J. Dubner/ Freakonomics Radio

Stephen J. Dubner is co-author of the Freakonomics books and host of Freakonomics Radio.


Learning to Listen

My grandmother used to say that “if you have one mouth and two ears it’s because you should listen twice as much as you speak”.

Today I know this is a bare minimum.

But listening is easier said than done. This article published by ActBuildChange.org  provides useful advice on how to listen better, so we can win over people’s hearts and minds.

When every conversation can spin into an argument, we are retreating to spaces occupied by people who only affirm us. We are losing our ability to listen to difference.

This is a serious problem for the state of our world. Once we stop listening, we stop learning and we lose our ability to empathise. This helps grow difference and division, them and us, hate and fear. This fire is spreading across our world and we will all burn if we are not willing to engage.

Here are some ways to help you find your ears again.

1. We need to get close

If you want to change the world you must get close to it.

As well as getting close to the people we serve and love, we need to get close to the people who are against what we stand for and those who stand still. You can not change the world at a distance. Working on issues of immigration, it was only when I got close to young people with irregular status did the work take on new urgency and meaning. It was only by getting close to political power, could I understand their agendas, limitations and struggles.

2. Be willing to get uncomfortable

Change comes through uncomfortable conversations. Where there is tension between two people and it is not all smiles and nodding. For example, that uncomfortable talk you are avoiding with your boss. You need to have it. Or the neighbour who stares at your headscarf. You need to address that. The local shopkeeper who looks at school kids like thieves, rather than children. Sit down with that shopkeeper. Lasting change comes through uncomfortable dialogue.

Not only do I believe you can speak with these folks, you can have good conversations with them. You can walk away feeling energised, inspired, understood – if you’re willing to listen.

3. Be Present

You don’t need to fake paying attention if you are in fact paying attention. Don’t multitask. Put your phone out of reach and be present in that moment. If you do not want to be in the conversation get out of it. Do not disrespect that person’s story, vulnerability and time by not giving them anything but complete focus.

4. Everyone is an expert in something

If your mouth is open you are not learning.

Approach every conversation with child-like curiosity. Always be prepared to be amazed and you will not be disappointed. Never assume because of someone’s class, race, faith or job, that you can’t work and learn from each other. We need curiosity and hope in all human potential.

5. Keep your assumptions at home

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. Most of us listen with the intent to reply.
Stephen R. Covey

Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

When talking to people who vote differently to you, worship differently to you, have more or less money; share your story. Ask them to share theirs. Allow yourself to see what you do have in common. It’s likely that you both have been through struggle and joy. You both love your brothers, sisters, partners, more than anything else in the whole world.

Use open-ended questions: who, what, why, when and how.

If you ask a complicated question expect a simple answer. If you ask a simple open question, you allow that person to describe how they really feel. Simple, open questions will give a much more interesting response.

6. Your opinion comes last

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

We seem to be much more concerned with personally broadcasting our opinions, than conversing with people different to us. All this loudness stops us from hearing the quiet, the nuanced and the subtle.

Put your opinions last. When you do that, people become less defensive and more open. They are likely to speak with greater honesty and a will to understand you too.

7. Speak to people on the other side

Ubuntu… speaks of the very essence of being human…My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.
Desmond Tutu

If you take anything away from this post, act on this. Think in your mind to someone who you see as different to you, morally superior, young or old, fill-in-the-blank. Find out more about that person you may have negatively stereotyped. Ask them for a tea. Together make it your intention to understand each other. Don’t persuade, defend, interrupt – just listen.

In South Africa this is called Ubuntu.

We are all part of a much bigger whole. Through understanding and empathy, we will no longer feel threatened. By talking and listening and getting that balance of conversation right, we can drop our swords and reach out towards each other. It is slow and challenging work, but it is our only hope of healing our world and building peace.

A Guide to Changing Someone Else’s Beliefs

Listen to this story



Changing minds is hard to do: When our most dearly held opinions — things like political convictions, religious beliefs, morals, and core principles — are challenged, our brains put up one hell of a fight to protect them. Research has shown that when deeply held beliefs are called into question, the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotions, kicks into high gear as if we were encountering danger, leaving us in no mood to consider a difference of opinion.

And yet people convincing other people to believe things is what makes the world go around. Whether you’re selling a product, angling for a promotion, or running for office, the odds are good that your job requires you to influence and persuade people in some capacity. And outside of work, many of our social relationships are built on shared beliefs: We often get along best with people who agree with us.

The same science that helps us understand how beliefs are formed can actually help us get better at changing them. The first thing you need to understand about persuasion, explains Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is that what you’re saying matters far less than who you are.

“Most of us think that the message and the merits of the message are the things that will convince people,” Cialdini says. “That’s usually not the case. Very often, it’s the relationship we have to the messenger. It’s not always about the argument, but about the delivery.”

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s much easier to influence people who are already close to you. This is in part because their brains are already primed for the right chemical reaction. Neuroscientist Paul Zak has spent most of his career researching oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with love, happiness, bonding, and — as Zak’s research has demonstrated — trust.

“It makes you more sensitive to social information,” he says. “I can more effectively persuade you if I flood your brain with oxytocin.” If you’re trying to convince a friend, family member, or partner of something, your odds are better if you soften them up with reminders of your closeness: Warm temperatures, eye contact, and touch all prompt the release of oxytocin. “Give them love, give them affection,” Zak says. “Tell them, ‘I really want to help you understand this thing.’”

Of course, you can’t just go around hugging everyone you need to sway to your point of view. But even for acquaintances and other loose ties, you can still use psychology to your advantage. Cialdini says that understanding a few universal principles of human behavior can help make you a master influencer.

“People want to give back to those who’ve given to them,” Cialdini says. “That’s the principle of reciprocity.” A 2002 study via Cornell University found that when restaurant servers brought customers a mint or candy along with their bill, tips went up almost three percent. If they added an additional mint to the tray, tips went up even more.

“If the server puts one mint on the tray and then turns and says, ‘You know what, you’ve been such great guests, here’s another mint,’ tips go up 20 percent,” Cialdini says. “The key is personalizing what you give; that can change people dramatically.”

“You can make the case that if an idea is unique, people will want it.”

But coaxing open someone’s mind isn’t as easy as just buying their affection. Instead, make them feel listened to. Pay attention to your friends and coworkers, and give gifts that are simple but meaningful. Learning someone’s coffee order and surprising them with a cup, for example, could have a much bigger effect on their willingness to listen than giving them a Starbucks gift card.

Another strategy: Use the rules of supply and demand to your advantage. The rarer something is, the more people want it, and the more they’re willing to pay for it. This same principle, Cialdini says, can apply to belief and influence.

“To some extent, you can make the case that if an idea is unique, people will want it,” he says. This might even offer an explanation for why some people are more susceptible to fake news or conspiracy theories or why they’ll cling to information that’s been resoundingly disproven. “They’re now in possession of a piece of information or knowledge that not everyone holds, and it sets them apart,” he says. “It explains why we’ll believe ridiculous things.”

The perception of scarcity becomes a more powerful incentive for people to get on board with your ideas “if you can make the case that unless we move now, the benefits of this cause or approach will be lost to us,” Cialdini says. “‘We have a limited time in which to elect people who are favorable to our side; we’ve got to move’ — that spurs people into action.”

If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely already experienced another principle of persuasion psychology: authority. Cialdini and Zak are published authors with advanced degrees — experts in their fields — so you’re likely more willing to accept what they have to say about the science of influence at face value.

“When people are given an expert’s position on, for instance, difficult economic problems, the areas of the brain associated with critical evaluation flatline,” Cialdini says. “If an expert says it, we don’t have to think about it.”

If you’re trying to influence someone’s opinion on a topic that you’re well-educated in, that’s a good time to brag about your resume. “Mention your background or experience or degrees,” Cialdini says. “If you can get people to believe you’re an expert and get them to see you as trustworthy, no one can beat you.”

That trustworthy part is key: You can be the most educated, qualified person around, but it won’t matter if people don’t trust you. To that end, Cialdini recommends a shortcut that may seem counterintuitive: “We’re trained to begin with our most compelling arguments — strongest ones first,” he says. “To establish trust and credibility, you should begin by describing the weaknesses in your case.” People might be taken aback, he explains, but they’ll like that you’re being straight with them. “Then, you show how the strengths overwhelm the weaknesses, and you win the day.”

You can also use a person’s history to your advantage — after all, no one is more persuasive to us than, well, us. Tailor your pitch to match things they’ve done or said in the past. (That might mean doing a bit of digging on a LinkedIn or Twitter feed — just don’t bring it up to them in a way that seems creepy or off-putting.)

“Align your recommendation with a statement of theirs,” Cialdini says. “Like, ‘I really appreciated what you wrote about equality and fairness. That’s why I’m asking you to move in the direction of greater diversity.” No one wants to be seen as going back on their word, so this tactic works especially well on social media. “The more public it is,” Cialdini says, “the more powerful that commitment to consistency.”

But one of the best strategies for changing someone’s beliefs is also the simplest: We’re far more easily influenced by people we like or have things in common with. Again, this is where an internet search can be your friend: If you find commonalities or shared hobbies with someone, it can be helpful to mention them before you launch into a sales pitch. Even if it’s as basic as rooting for the same sports team or binging the same Netflix show, you’ve established a common bond.

You can also try genuine compliments. “Not only do people like those who are like them; they like people who like them and say so,” Cialdini says. “If it’s a phony compliment, people will see though it, so wait until you find something you really like about what a person said in a meeting, a position they took that you agree with, or a good job they did on a task and then tell them so.”

You don’t need to employ every one of these tactics every time you’re working to persuade someone. Sometimes, just one strategy fits the bill; other times, a situation might require a combination of persuasion methods. But the most important thing to remember when it comes to changing beliefs is that the facts are sort of secondary: The human element is what matters. “The mistake people make is using logic. For normal humans, data and evidence isn’t the way to change a mind,” Zak says. “We’re social creatures, and we’re fascinated by other humans. It’s not about the story. It’s about the storyteller.”


Kate Morgan

Kate is a freelance journalist who’s been published by Popular Science, The Washington Post, USA Today, Slate, and many more. Read more at bykatemorgan.com.

Old and New Power – Distributed action in modern times


How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You

Heimans, CEO of Purpose, which “builds and supports social movements,” and Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y, debut with an illuminating discussion of how technology and our rising expectations have enabled us to achieve our goals on a greater-than-ever scale. Old power, write the authors, depends on expertise and what you own or control, as in Fortune 500 companies. New power relies on connectivity and the desire to participate and collaborate, as in Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook (as well as protest movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter and terrorist groups like the Islamic State).

Using online engagement, crowdsourcing, and peer-to-peer approaches, new power offers a fresh means of participation and a “heightened sense of agency” for all involved. The authors detail how power—old, new, or a combination of both—is now exercised by people, companies, and movements to quietly shape our lives in impactful ways.

Old power has the top-down voice of a corporate press release; new power soars through “meme drops,” which “spread sideways, coming most alive when remixed, shared, and customized by peer communities”—e.g., in the ice bucket challenge and Pepe the Frog.

Old power thinks of what makes an idea stick in people’s memories and imagination. New power wonders what makes an idea spread. To determine what makes an idea spread, the authors propose the acronym ACE:

Actionnable: the idea needs to have a clear call to action, something that can be done by anyone.

Connected: the action needs to connect you to others

Extensible: people need to be able to customize the action, to make it fit their own formet

It is often in this last dimension that most so-called “participatory” actions fail.

The impact of these thoughts on SOGI campaigning is immense:

In a world where people distrust institutionalised power more and more, established organisations and movements find it increasingly difficult to mobilise. Most major recent mobilisations, from #MeeToo to the Climate marches have been generated outside of movements.

Moreover, basic messenger theory tells us that people don’t trust sources which they feel have a vested interest in an issue. This bias to put more trust in close social circles has increased lately, with social apps like Yelp even specialising in channelling opinions. So mobilisation from “within” is increasingly un-strategic.

So it seems that organisations would have everything to gain from moving away from models of old power, and many organisations have

Yet, most of LGBTI+ organisations rely on a MODEL of new power but still remain within the VALUES of old power. In other words, organisations want everybody to participate but cling on to their monopoly on the content. The increasing complexity of the issues of sexuality and gender doesn’t make distributing the discourse easier: in a post-gender, non-binary, intersectional world, the gap between “politellectuals” (those with the intellectual capacity to draw the political concepts) and the “crowd” deepens, making meaningful participation more difficult across the divide.


Reason to Change

We mostly think that we can bring about change by relying on people’s reason. But as  social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote in The Righteous Mind, “Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason.”

This is an edited excerpt of an article from thewholestory


For decades, economists assumed that human beings were reasonable actors, operating in a rational world. When people made mistakes in free markets, rational behavior would, it was assumed, generally prevail. Then, in the 1970s, psychologists like Daniel Kahneman began to challenge those assumptions. Their experiments showed that humans are subject to all manner of biases and illusions.

“We are influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over, and we don’t know we’re doing it,” as Kahneman put it. The good news was that these irrational behaviors are also highly predictable. So economists have gradually adjusted their models to account for these systematic human quirks.

Campaigners instinctively understand certain things about human psychology: we know how to grab the brain’s attention and stimulate fear, sadness or anger. We can summon outrage in five words or less. We value the ancient power of storytelling, and we get that good stories require conflict, characters and scene. But in the present era of tribalism, it feels like we’ve reached our collective limitations.

So our collective challenge in changing hearts and minds is: how can we avoid reinforcing the polarization of attitudes? How can we constructively use the conflict between opposing sides, to advance the debate and not entrench existing attitudes?

The lesson for  anyone working amidst intractable conflict: complicate the narrative. First, complexity leads to a fuller, more accurate story. Secondly, it boosts the odds that your work will matter — particularly if it is about a polarizing issue. When people encounter complexity, they become more curious and less closed off to new information. They listen, in other words.

There are many ways to complicate the narrative, as described in detail under the six strategies below. But the main idea is to feature nuance, contradiction and ambiguity wherever you can find it. This does not mean calling advocates for both sides and quoting both; that is simplicity, and it usually backfires in the midst of conflict. “Just providing the other side will only move people further away,” says social psychologist Peter T. Coleman in his book The Five Percent. Nor does it mean creating a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and their opponents. That is just simplicity in a cheap suit. Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don’t fit the narrative — on purpose.

The idea is to revive complexity in a time of false simplicity. “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete,” novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her mesmerizing TED Talk “A Single Story.” t’s impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person.”

As researchers have established in hundreds of experiments over the past half-century, the way to counter the kind of tribal prejudice we are seeing is to expose people to the other tribe or new information in ways they can accept. When conflict is cliché, complexity is breaking news.

As LGBTI activists, we are often drawn to simplify the stories. First because we need to mobilise our supporters. And mobilisation requires to be simple, sharp, action-focused. Secondly because we are drenched in attacks from our opponents, which are all but simplified, if not simplistic; so we react by doing the same. Thirdly, because simplifying helps us to make sense of a world that often just looks too absurd to grasp.

But if we want to have a deep and wide impact at changing attitudes, bringing complexity back into the debate might be a non-negotiable parameter.


Will truth be defeated? What can be done when 12 million Americans believe Obama is an alien lizard?

On February 12, 2014 the New Zealand Prime Minister proudly announced on TV that he could medically prove that he was not a …lizard.

Although this made everyone laugh, the sad truth is that he had to respond to a constitutional request of a citizen who demanded that the PM proved that he was not “a lizard alien in human shape trying to enslave the Human race”. And sadder even, he was not alone. In 2013, 4% of the US populations (that’s 12 million people), believed the alien lizard myth, and that Queen Elisabeth and Barack Obama were among them.


If you draw a parallel with the myths and urban legends surrounding LGBTI people, it is not. “Abuse of children”, “witchcraft”, “demonization”, are just a few of the myths that are being used to persecute, and often kill, LGBT people. Hardly is there an earthquake that is not blamed on “gays”, in places as different as Italy, the USAHaiti or more recently Indonesia.

From firm belief that planet Earth is flat, to certainty that HIV can be cured with garlic, there are countless urban legends and myths that resist all forms of argumentation.

Some campaigners will argue that it is education to rationality that will over time overcome legends and myths. But if education might be a necessary condition, it is by no mean sufficient. Actually, in a lot of cases the more educated people are the better they are equipped to justify their beliefs. Education might make it more difficult for people to hold crazy beliefs but once they do, they will use their education to cling to them even more.

That is one of the reasons why having our campaigns systematically target “people with higher education” might be something we should put serious research in, and not just assume that they are more progressive, or easier to convince.

Social research into human behavior has shown that people make their distinction between true and false, or right and wrong, on the basis of the group they (want to) belong to, and not on the basis of what they know is true. Hence religious dogma and “alternative facts”.

And with the choice of communications channels being more and more in the hands of the users (no more sitting in front of the 8 o’clock news), people live in a social bubble and the influence of the “in-group” is getting stronger and stronger.

Social media research shows that the bubbles are tighter than ever, with very little flow between opposing bubbles.

So your “truth” is unlikely to reach your target in the first place. And if it does, it is likely to be dismissed.

So is truth once and for all a loosing game?

“Providing information” and doing so on one’s Facebook page is definitely not the most effective thing to do when it comes to changing people, but there might be some other options to consider:

The most obvious move is of course to reach beyond your own “bubble” and identify the “bubbles” that are closest to you: the first tier. Human rights groups, women’s liberation forums, and all your natural allies.

But some of the “second tier” bubbles are harder to identify, although this is often where the biggest gains can be achieved. If you aim at early adopters of new trends, discussion forums on technological progress could be a good target. If you aim at young modern women, you might want to try discussion forums on fashion or modern lifestyle. When you know that a new series with an LGB or T character hits the net, it might be a better use of your time to participate in the discussions on mainstream discussion forums rather than on your own channels.

But even so, the basics of campaigns communication still apply and aggressively trolling these circles will be counterproductive, only alienating enemies even further. Communication has to be smartly framed, and this takes a bit of preparation.

Counter-intuitive as it may be, “truth” won’t change people.

If we want to have even a slight chance to change hearts and minds, we have to be good at becoming part of our target’s reference groups. And this requires going out of our bubbles and take the conversation where people are.










Too many cooks in the kitchen?

Most are familiar with the saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, meaning that when too many people start deciding on something, it normally ends up messy.

The typical coalition pitfalls will be familiar to most readers: turf wars, conflicting interests, resource constraints and so forth. From a communications perspective, these are often expressed in challenges like:

  • How will the coalition present itself publicly?
  • How will they reach agreement on positioning and messaging?
  • How will the groups share their lists and how will newly-acquired supporters be distributed amongst the partners?

This excellent article from Greenpeace’s MOBLAB shares interesting insights about how to navigate those waters and suggest a creative solution: create a common portal and let each coalition partner develop their own content from there.

Read more HERE