Building big digital movements

By John Fitzgerald on 5th Jul 2021

At this week’s DigiShift, we heard from Paul de Gregorio, founder of Rally and a leading digital engagement and mobilisation strategist. Paul’s talk was totally packed with insights, so if you have a bit of time it’s definitely worth checking out the recording on our YouTube channel.

Here are just a few of the points he covered: 

Why is digital mobilisation important? 

First of all, Paul emphasised why digital mobilisation is important: 

  1. It’s where people are (people have moved lots of activities online during the pandemic) 
  1. It’s about a belief in people power 
  1. Engaging the public at scale is critical to achieving change 

Paul highlighted the rapidly-changing context we are all experiencing right now. At times like this, it’s really important to be able to engage and inspire lots of people, and respond rapidly to events to motivate responses and actions. 

Values, not products 

Doing digital mobilisation well is about leading with values not products. So appealing to people’s deeper beliefs rather than trying to offer superficial benefits. This means you can build a strategy that is centred around attraction, not acquisition. 

But it’s worth remembering that micro acts are meaningful – even small, ‘low bar’ actions are significant starting points on people’s engagement with an issue. Paul summarised this brilliantly by highlighting that every movement needs to have some ‘easy doors’ to walk through. 

‘We’ > ‘I’ 

Paul turned to the example of Bernie 2016 to highlight a few key components of successful mobilisation. First, the campaign had its values up front and centre. Secondly, Bernie’s campaign used ‘we/us’ language rather than ‘me/I’. This is much more inclusive and shares agency with the people you are trying to involve. Another way of talking about this is to emphasise ‘horizontal’ framing rather than ‘vertical’ framing in the language we use. 

Greenpeace’s Mobilisation Lab has lots of expertise and resources. For example, the key points of a good mobilisation story: 

  • Have a clear problem & solution 
  • Be clear on the plan - how you’re going to get there 
  • Articulate the challenges blocks authentically 
  • Use framing and language that creates the big ‘us’ and reinforce the sense of being part of a community 
  • Have things to do – drive inspiration and participation. 

Let a thousand flowers bloom 

Greenpeace are also a great example of having a diverse, rich portfolio of actions – always trying lots of things but keeping each ask simple. This helps them see what engages their supporters and reinforces the sense that they are doing things together. 

Paul had loads of other brilliant insights and advice for organisations thinking about digital mobilisation. To repeat myself, go and watch the recording! As you might expect, with such a good presentation, there were lots of great questions. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • What would a believable plan and vision look/feel like? Sometimes short-term goals get achieved and movements seem to lose momentum... 
  • In being so values foccused how do you prevent the internal workings of the organisation completely undermining them? 
  • How can you articulate to leadership that people who support a cause/organisation are not a 'tool' i.e. you can't just tell them what to do and expect them to fall in line? 

So if you’re thinking about using digital to mobilise people, or even if you’ve been trying it for a while, it’s worth catching up again on this DigiShift call.