Businesses across all industries long to spark movements and inspire changes, but the challenge is most don't have the budget or human capital to make this desire a reality. For example, it's easy for a business to say, "We want to help people understand the importance of sustainability in our industry." Saying is quite different from doing, though. In order to push this initiative, you need time, money, and influence.
The good news is that you don't need a million-dollar campaign budget to spur movement. Thanks to grassroots techniques and the power of social media, it's now possible for small businesses to produce major changes without breaking the bank.
Understanding Grassroots Marketing
In essence, grassroots marketing campaigns are designed to cost-effectively leverage available resources to accomplish specific goals that require considerable traction from a number of parties or entities.
Over time, grassroots marketing has evolved, but the primary goal has always remained the same: to spur movement within a specific target market. Traditionally, this has referred to a local geographical market, but thanks to the advent of the internet and social media, this is no longer true. Grassroots marketing can take place on a grand stage, which means significant movement can occur.
Generally speaking, grassroots marketing makes sense when one of the following situations is present:
- Small marketing budget. Traditionally, grassroots efforts have been used when there's a very small marketing budget. The reason is that grassroots campaigns thrive on word of mouth and natural placements, as opposed to paid media.
- Very targeted audience. Another common reason for pursuing grassroots efforts is that the audience you're attempting to reach is very targeted. For example, let's say you're trying to engage Mexican-Americans between the ages of 18-24 who live in Tennessee and watch professional basketball. It's difficult to justify paid advertising when you have such a small audience. Grassroots efforts, on the other hand, give you more control over your reach.
- Audience craves interaction. The third situation where grassroots efforts are preferred is when the audience you're targeting craves personal attention and interaction. In other words, it's a better way to interact with people, as opposed to consuming content through paid marketing efforts and strategically placed advertisements.
Throughout history, grassroots efforts have been used by brands to increase sales and drive word of mouth marketing, but these same tactics have also been used to spur significant social movements.
Grassroots Efforts and Historical Movements
Perhaps one of the more recognizable instances of this happened during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. While history tends to reflect on very specific and calculated events, much of the movement was fueled by grassroots efforts.
"Behind the dramatic actions that captured the headlines was a massive grass-roots organizing effort across the South that involved thousands of passionate young organizers," writes Andrew Levison of the Democratic Strategist.
"For every one sit-in demonstrator there were a hundred grass-roots civil rights activists who spent months and years travelling around the South to conduct 'freedom schools' in church basements, restaurants, barber shops and meeting halls, gatherings that were held in even the smallest towns and rural areas," he continues.
More recently, we've seen how grassroots efforts can lead to large-scale social movement in the form of Occupy Wall Street--the 2011 movement in which millions of people sought to purify Washington.
"The Occupy Wall Street movement is a conundrum for corporate media because it grew from a truly grassroots movement--a spontaneous group of people who said, 'I have had enough,'" Darrel Scharp of MLive Media Group wrote at the time.
Taking a Grassroots Approach on Social Media
Taking the lessons learned from businesses, as well as large-scale movements like the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, it's possible for modern brands to extract valuable teaching points and spur movements of their own. And in 2016, this means using the best resource available: social media.
- How Brands are Using Vine in Grassroots Efforts
If you want to meet influencers where they are, you need to be using progressive social media platforms like Vine. While each video is constrained to just six seconds, it's hard to ignore the viral nature of this network. Here are two examples of how brands have used Vine to grow natural campaigns:
- Target. Just last year, Target used Vine to create a unique campaign that involved users playing a game of tag with an iconic red ball. Each user tagged someone they knew and asked them to continue the story. The result was a collection of thousands of users rallying around Target's brand. Best of all, it cost Target very little.
- Disney Parks. Since they already have such a large audience, all Disney Parks needs to do is mobilize this audience through grassroots efforts. They've effectively accomplished this via Vine--encouraging users to utilize hashtags and videos of them visiting the parks.
Other companies that are proficient at using Vine include Nike, BuzzFeed, Dunkin Donuts, Airbnb, and more.
- Where Periscope Fits into the Equation
As Periscope has emerged onto the scene, it's become a popular platform for grassroots campaigning. In fact, it's about as grassroots as you can get on social media. Companies have been using the platform to provide sneak-peeks into exclusive events, behind-the-scenes videos, live announcements, celebrity takeovers, and more.
- Facebook and Twitter Always Have a Place
While progressive social media networks like Vine and Periscope may be extremely popular right now, it's hard to ignore the power of traditional staples like Facebook and Twitter. The latter has long been a powerful force and its impact in sparking social movements is well known. In fact, the #BlackLivesMatter campaign is rooted in Twitter. Recently, the #PrayforParis campaign also started on Twitter.
- When it Makes Sense for You
Ultimately, you have to do what makes sense for your brand. This means asking yourself questions such as: Are my target audiences using social media? Which platforms are they using? Who are my biggest influencers? How is the competition using social media to spark grassroots movements? The answers to questions like these will point you in the right direction.
Putting it All Together
Grassroots efforts have long been used to instigate change and fuel movements. Whether it's something as important as the civil rights movement, or something as small as a movement to increase awareness of a specific product, a grassroots campaign can do the job.
In the past, grassroots efforts have involved canvasing neighborhoods with mailers, talking with people on the streets, and encouraging loyal customers to speak out. In 2016, social media is at the heart of any successful grassroots campaign. Using the tips and examples referenced in this article, who's to say you can't spur significant movement?