4 Phases of Viral Social Movements for Good

What is the evolution or cycle of a movement? Social movements for good – think the Ice Bucket Challenge, #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins – take a substantial amount of human capital to generate interest from the onset.

Typically, these movements begin to develop a starter audience or group of early adopters. This group then inspires additional followers to join the movement in fighting for an issue, generating awareness or helping a population. From there, the group begins to accelerate through a sequence of public tools that build mass awareness and ultimately drive viral participation in an action or activity. This is the peak of the movement and what generates the general public’s interest. Most movements begin to deflate at this point.

Over time, a successful movement sustains its performance as an ongoing tool to generate further headway on the issue or support for the people.

This is conceptually displayed in the four phases of how social movements for good develop and sustain long term.

4 Phases of Viral Social Movements for Good

4 Phases of Viral Social Movements for Good

Phase 1: Building and Gathering a Group of Believers

The first step in social good movement building is about creating a group of believers. This initial group of believers typically represents the following groups: early adopters, those already affected, small groups already organized for the cause and immediate circles of influence represented by close friends, family and peers. At this phase, the movement is a shell and structure for the already converted to convene for a common theme and concept of action.

Phase 2: Letting the People Take Action with One Another

In this phase, movement builders have developed the tools and resources needed to help those who are involved with the movement get organized. Through actions like signing a petition, fundraising, and volunteering, the populace of the movement can take the crucial step to generate awareness and solicit the support of their peers. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Change.org attract followers and help ignite the beginning of a social movement. Through organized activities, local groups and organizers help the unconverted understand how the issue affects them personally and locally, draw that attention to take an action, and spread the message.

Phase 3: The Pinnacle Action

After gathering like-minded individuals, people close to and affected by the issue as well as movement builders create a pinnacle action to draw viral participation by the general public. Although momentum for the issue is growing, a notable awareness builder along with meaningful action is still necessary to draw in the vast majority of the general public that has yet to hear or understand the issue.

Phase 4: Sustaining the Movement

In the sustaining phase, the movement builder begins to create ongoing campaigns that may draw in new audiences and actions. These annual campaigns, both fundraising and activism, provide a mechanism to reignite the interest of the past participants.

Through marketing campaigns, individuals who initially reacted are educated on where the issue is today and how important it is to continue contributing.

Through fundraising campaigns, past pinnacle action participants witness the collective power of dollars raised by a group of people and how their support can make the difference in just one individual. Each of these campaigns grows on each other and builds on the narrative delivered at the beginning of the social movement—take action and awareness for oneself and others—in the spirit of making a difference.

I’ve spent the past year talking with leaders behind viral social movements for good and one thing is clear. The population wants an opportunity to be a part of a movement not just a one-time campaign. Sustaining movements take time to build and although virality can happen in an instant, it is likely due to a combination of a pinnacle moment intersecting with grassroots and digital action.

Derrick Feldmann is the author of Social Movements for Good, released February 1 by Wiley. He is the president of Achieve, a research and campaigns.
John Haydon