Tool: Spread The Ruckus Far & Wide
This is one of 15 civic engagement tools to Shift the Country.
Quick Overview: Spread The Ruckus Far & Wide
Foster Tipping Points In Social Networks To Reach Further. Make Shift Go Viral.
Tipping points – or when something “goes viral” – help create phenomena; from real-world social networks in communities to viral online sensations that create local or national buzz. Leveraging social networks online and in the real world in deliberate ways to create tipping points can spread ideas, action, and engagement farther than action alone or marketing alone can.
NOTE: This Shift the Country tool is not yet in its final form, but the information compiled here can be helpful in the interim until we get to the final draft.
Fostering Tipping Points / Viral Spread
Anyone can intentionally create tipping points of civic engagement activity and related narratives and buzz by using methodology to do so intentionally both online and in the real world. Fomenting tipping points to increase permeation, saturation, and reach in social networks can help engage and inspire more voters and action than standard marketing and activist organizing.
A tipping point is when something reaches critical mass in any social network, and “goes viral” – ideas, memes, activities, action, stories, hope, solidarity, etc. It’s based in epidemiology; it’s how diseases move through social networks. Tipping points can happen in the real world or online, and at any scale: in small towns, in neighborhoods, in metro areas, in activist networks, through any other networks, through social media platforms, in regions, or nationwide.
Anyone can create tipping points by bringing these three elements together:
- Context: We address context by speaking to the moment: like a once-in-a-century out-of-control pandemic, government deliberately failing the people it is meant to serve, injustice, inequality, threats to life and health, emerging tyranny, brazen corruption, etc.
- Stickiness: Stickiness, or resonance, is the level of contagion or infectiousness. It’s the ability to stick, be carried, and be transmitted; like the resonance of a meme, idea, story, or activity. It’s about how much people want to share it, when it’s content (not an actual virus). When creating content, stickiness can be tested by measuring the reach of organic spread of varying content types.
- Super Spreaders in Social Networks: Super spreaders, connectors, spanners, or bridgers are those people who cross many social networks in the real-world or online, and/or who have significant influence (online or in-real-life), or a high number of online followers. They cross networks and bring ideas (or viruses, in the case of epidemiology) with them as they go. The sociological work that addresses the power of this phenomenon (the strength of weak ties) is one of the most highly-cited sociological references in active use.
We can add to tipping point activity by leveraging and growing partnerships, alliances, and networks. As coalition-building and related synergy increases, feedback loops among active coalition groups will amplify spread and reach.
Strategic organizing can ramp up tipping points. Organizations can use and expand relational and distributed organizing to further grow tipping points, and to expand their influence and reach. Digital and virtual organizing activity can encourage, promote, facilitate, demonstrate, schedule, and/or lead the use of the civic engagement activities and action. It can help highlight and amplify civic engagement action and progress. It can share and amplify earned media attention. It can lead online action to amplify narratives, activity, or messaging itself to help build and grow tipping points and expand movements, power-building, and real-world shift.
Finally, we can use digital marketing to promote the Shift the Country civic engagement tools, and to “boost” or otherwise promote or amplify online activity, news, and buzz related to all of this shift. Marketing can be targeted to particularly challenged areas, such as key geographic and demographic areas facing great challenges. Marketing can prioritize civic engagement tools for promotion that may be able to help in a particular moment, or that may be gaining traction or attention with a certain audience or in a given region. Digital marketing can also promote civic engagement activity itself – scheduled events, stories of success, the effects of civic engagement action in peoples’ communities and lives to help create buzz and foster tipping points, while also spreading inspiration, solidarity, more action, and support for Democratic values. Digital marketing can use marketing targeting strategies and tools; and test content for stickiness, organic shares, reach, and effectiveness. The Shift the Country digital marketing capacity and reach will be a variable directly influenced by available funding. As funding increases past our baseline operational costs, we can ramp up our digital marketing work that can serve to amplify and grow tipping points. As that marketing work expands, feedback loops can kick in and create the kind of exponential growth that helps create larger-scale spread phenomena.
There is a concept in physics where an entire lake can be at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and yet not be frozen. When one single crystal freezes – the whole lake suddenly freezes. There is a similar phenomenon in wildfire behavior called mass ignition. An enormous area such as a meadow or mountainside may be surrounded by fire and yet not be on fire. When the area does catch fire – the fire doesn’t move. Rather, there is a mass ignition – when the entire area catches fire all at once.
The mass ignition of a movement may be a high goal to strive for – yet it is a goal that is reachable. The intentional and successful creation of tipping points is realistic. The science is real. The mechanisms are affordable and achievable. Intention, coordination, and a certain amount of faith in the organic nature of the phenomena are required. It can absolutely be done.
Case Study: Devin Nunes' Cow
It is ridiculous that this is even a story to tell, much less as part of nonprofit work, but here we are. This section is a breakdown of how the @DevinCow Twitter account hit a tipping point and went viral in mid-March 2019. This is the world we are in, and it is helpful to be aware of it. Understanding social media, memes, trends, hashtags, and how things go viral is key to making this whole strategy work. This recent occurrence is a perfect illustration.
This particular viral phenomenon happened when the Devin Nunes’ Cow Twitter account went from about 7,500 followers March 18, 2019 to over 404,000 followers the morning of March 20, and increased to 633,000 by March 25.
- Context / Back-Story: Devin Nunes, US House Representative (R-CA), was the republican party chair of the US House Intelligence Committee when the current president came into office. Nunes took a number of actions to undermine the US Intelligence Committee (IC) and investigations into Russian election interference. He also leaked information, passed inappropriate information, and created a misleading and inaccurate report in reference to investigations and classified information. In the third case, he apparently did not even read the classified source information he claimed to base the bogus, misleading report on. Mr. Nunes has continued to demonstrate extreme allegiance to the US president, and to undermine/erode the institutions of law enforcement and of the IC.
- Context / New Developments: News came out in March 2018 that Mr. Nunes filed a lawsuit against two Twitter accounts that are spoofs, or parody accounts, in relation to him. One is referenced in the suit as “Devin Nunes’ Mom,” and one is referenced as “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” This last element is as much context as it is “stickiness.” The Devin Nunes’ Mom Twitter account was apparently de-activated, but the Devin Nunes’ Cow one is active. And it’s spectacular.
- Stickiness + Context: Part of the stickiness for this sensation is the incredible irony of the whole thing. That grows from the context of watching an individual, Mr. Nunes, go to such great lengths to support a president who makes fun of absolutely everyone on Twitter, except for brutal dictators. That Mr. Nunes does not catch the irony in his own lawsuit over being made fun of on Twitter is part of the phenomenon here.
- Stickiness: The Devin Nunes’ Cow Twitter account, @DevinCow, is hilarious, snarky, punchy, cutting, well-curated, slightly rude, and cute. It is well assembled and produced, with memes well-suited to viral-level action themselves. Retweets resonate with the audience, and are newsy or align with the body of meme work. The @DevinCow account has all of the elements of any single meme – yet in a Twitter account – not just a single Tweet. This is an account with stickiness, in spades.
- Superspreaders + Amplifiers: The @DevinCow viral sensation had a huge array of superspreader types and also amplifiers. First, news reports reported the absurdity of the lawsuit – which was a story that got widespread national coverage due to all of the above. One or several Connectors (a superspreader/influencer in this case) on Twitter, including the Executive Producer of The Ellen Show, got engaged in spreading information and pushing to get new followers fast – specifically to annoy Mr. Nunes, and so that the parody account would have more followers than the Congressman. Once widespread news coverage occurred, comedians on television and online spread the phenomenon further. The story of the viral action then became a story. And of course – everyday PEOPLE amplified the message on various social media channels and by word of mouth. All of this has brought real-world effects and consequences. A corresponding fundraiser for the non-profit Heifer International received double matches on donations during the phenomenon. There are unverified reports that people who see Mr. Nunes in public at that time in 2019 were moo-ing at him. A local republican party event scheduled for the next weekend was cancelled. Individuals mailed cow-related items to Mr. Nunes’ congressional office, and rented cow costumes to visit his office or to protest at it.
The phenomena above happened in a period of less than seven days.
It is an excellent example of a somewhat orchestrated tipping point – in that certain Connectors, Salespeople, and other Amplifiers and Superspreader types were ready to jump in and push something when the opportunity presented itself.
There is something else invaluable here, and it is spectacle. This kind of absolute absurdity draws media attention, creates spectacle, and competes with the kind of attention the current president is skilled at drawing.
Some Democrats, the “resistance,” and others have accomplished similar spectacles before, such as when a conservative-leaning pundit suggested the conspiracy that liberal types were fixing to conduct (an imaginary) civil war on a recent Fourth of July. The response led to a dramatic, entertaining, light, and incredibly creative onslaught of #SecondCivilWarLetters trending on social media. These kinds of responses counter fear – with light, humor, and the human spirit. It is difficult to counter that back except with anger and frustration, and a complete lack of humour.
The @DevinCow case study is a highlight in creative problem-solving en masse and organically, in addition to being a spectacle and a viral sensation. It is yet more evidence that we can do amazing things in ad-hoc ways and at scale. Tapping into that is part of the goal of the Shift the Country strategy.
Tipping Points: Part of Our 5-Part Strategy
"Leveraging Social Networks To Reach Further" is part of our five-part strategy to make shift happen. We leverage social networks plus marketing for greater permeation and reach in both the real world and online – to foster the “viral spread” of action, engagement, activities, problem-solving, stories, messages, and ideas.
The Shift the Country approach helps people amplify their action, stories, and messages. We can all drive the narrative with tools for creating spectacle, and for deliberately creating tipping points to expand permeation and reach in social networks in both the real world and online. There’s more detail in the section at the end on “More To The Story: Fostering Tipping Points / Viral Spread.”
The elements in the five-part strategy combined in both the real world and online activate and amplify feedback loops of social networks to ramp up attention, action, creativity, ideas, messaging, and buzz – and more civic engagement and shift.
These feedback loops build exponential growth, and can be amplified strategically.
We can intentionally create something like a phenomenon – like a virus can turn into an outbreak.
That phenomenon can help people and organizations interest and engage previously disinterested, disengaged, disenchanted voters to turn out to vote in an election critical to the future of this country.
Coordinated, strategic engagement activity, messaging, and sensation creates virtual and real-world effects that are noticeable and helpful in crises; effects that people talk about with friends, relatives, and connections. It’s activity and messaging that highlights lived Democratic values in a crisis; action that serves more Americans, in better ways. The phenomenon can be a beacon of hope, humanity, and strength that motivates voters to turn out, and that inspires more Americans to take action, get invested, and get engaged. Voters helping each other also helps keep more voters alive.
All of this is anchored in a set of 15 basic flexible easy-to-use civic engagement tools that help people take action; to take on structural reform anywhere, organically. These tools can help anyone be a force for civic change locally, regionally, state-wide, among alliances or groups anywhere, in a metro area, in a tribal area, or nationally.
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Details on how to use this and the other 15 civic engagement tools are under construction as we're a brand-new nonprofit, created in the summer of 2020 to deal with multiple crises in the US. More information on this tool is coming ASAP!
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More details, discussion, and examples on how to use this tool in the tagged resources below. Some of the resources below show how you can combine the 15 civic engagement tools, and/or how they can be applied to the 10 structural areas. Help us help you by talking about our work, sharing it around online and with the real-world connections you have, and with contributions here at Shift the Country on GoFundMe.