Monday, October 10, 2011

How to Occupy the hearts and souls of a nation

Posted by Greg Matusky
A word of public relations advice to our Occupiers

Any movement that gains the kind of national attention that Occupy Wall Street -- and now its attendant protests -- has generated deserves our attention and analysis. What started as a grassroots call to action by Canadian-based Adbusters Media Foundation, has in the last three weeks grown into a legitimate voice of discontent, which last week may have hit a critical tipping point, when online buzz of the endeavor increased a remarkable 250 percent from Sept. 28 until Oct. 5, 2011.


At least, that's according to my own internal analysis performed by Nielsen's BuzzMetrics, which can review more than 100 million online mentions and comments about a given movement, issue, or brand. Certainly, last week's union support of the movement hastened its visibility, giving it the first measure of credibility.

From my perspective, no one should dismiss Occupy. It's a growing and legitimate voice, particularly given the speed with which social movements in the Middle East came to power and toppled governments.

Like their overseas brethren, U.S. Occupiers have similar, if not better, organizational and social communications skills -- and they are powered by the same Millennial competencies and energies. I know well of what I speak. My firm has been a major beneficiary over the years of the boundless creativity, energy, and competency of young professionals, who have taken their love and expertise of Facebook, Twitter, and online relationship building and put it to work for our clients' benefit.

The intent of this post isn't to support or oppose the movement. Rather, it's to analyze how the Occupiers can increase their overall traction by improving their PR and communications approach. To get to the next level, Occupiers should consider a few basic tenets of public relations, including:

1. The Holy Trinity of Communication. It pained me this weekend to listen to Occupiers struggle to hone their message. In our Twitterized society of 15-second sound bursts, the messenger needs more than simple discontent. It needs a message -- three short, powerful points to drive it forward. What's the message of the Occupying forces? It needs to be distilled down for easy consumption.

2. The medium is the message. In our analysis, Twitter accounted for 67 percent of Occupiers' messaging. While important, Twitter is too often an echo chamber of followers and the followed. To reach other audiences (including out-of-work middle class Americans and pensionless baby boomers), you need to broaden your media reach, and that means convincing mainstream media to cover the movement.


3. Don't model yourselves after hippies of the 1960s. Those movements drew the line at not trusting anyone over 30. Rather, in this instance, others are also disenfranchised. You need a bigger tent, one with mass appeal.

4. The mass of the 99 percent. That's a powerful, inclusive draw. Your movement has the ability to touch the mass of humanity that shares your outrage and fear of the future. Antagonizing the New York City police isn't going to win you fans. Remember, these are the guys who rushed to their own deaths in 9/11. Instead, engage them by defending their jobs, wages, and pensions. Make them comrades and not opponents.

5. Develop your spokespeople and consider well their perception. I know, I know. This is a grassroots, people-powered effort. But without bright, articulate spokespeople, who look and speak rationally, the mainstream media will turn to your lunatic fringe for commentary -- which will undermine your legitimacy. Rather, you need to show the world that well-educated, good-intentioned people are all part of the cause, which will be seen as more noble if you accept these five basic rules of communications.

Good luck!
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