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Disruptive Communications for Social Change

By Laura Joly on September 4, 2023

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Discussing social change naturally comes with the expectation that the tools currently in play are top-notch. 

We’re no strangers to the pivotal role communication plays in revolutionizing industries. But have you taken a moment to ponder its potential to drive social change? Indeed, communication can spearhead the journey towards a better society. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that our existing communication models might need some fine-tuning to serve the cause of social change better.

This article will discuss how communication, social disruption and cultural strategy can work together to bring about social impact. Together, they form a powerful trio that has the potential to catalyze remarkable social impact.

Reimagining communicating for social change

By tapping into the power of words and engaging in purposeful dialogue, communicators can be change-makers committed to making the world a better place. Communication strategies that encourage collaboration using digital platforms and focus on advocacy were the keys to driving lasting and meaningful social transformation. 

Rapid communication, often through social media, can help communicators learn from customers quickly, improve their processes and iterate on the fly. However, current digital communication channels give us the illusion that we communicate more than ever. As the famous George Bernard Shaw quote goes, “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 

The reality is that the digital landscape is saturated with content and fleeting attention spans. People sometimes mistake their passive acts, like “liking” a post, for genuine activism while neglecting the communication’s core messages. 

To rise above the superficial realm of “activism” and cultivate communication that generates substantial impact by raising awareness and actively contributing to resolving social issues, communicators must glean insights from the contemporary strategies of social disruption and innovation observed in the business world.

Communicating with Social Disruption in Mind

What percentage of word of mouth do you think happens online? Millions of people use sites daily, and billions of content are shared monthly. Most people would then be surprised to hear that seven per cent of word of mouth happens online. We need to remember how much time we spend offline. We also tend to overestimate online word of mouth because it’s easier to see. 

Now, why did I bring up word of mouth randomly? Social disruption has the potential of getting past the digital communication “activism” by generating conversations offline to create real social impact.  

Markets, brands, and media outlets frequently uphold conventions over extended periods, potentially spanning decades. However, during historical evolution and transformations in social frameworks, certain shifts emerge that possess a disruptive quality. These shifts give rise to a new arena, accompanied by new cultural expressions. It’s called social disruption.

Communications can convey these shifts, steering them in the right direction. Imagine harnessing this very concept to drive societal transformations. Picture employing it to spread awareness about significant issues. 

It sounds great conceptually, but how do I actually do it? The answer is cultural strategy.

A man sits as he speaks to a group of engaged employees.

Cultural strategy 

Cultural strategy is about embracing every nook and cranny of culture and fusing it with the journey toward social change. Its ultimate goal is to shape a society. Cultural Strategy has been the unsung hero of transformation. From activists who dared to challenge the status quo to artists who painted the future with bold strokes and movement leaders who carved out new paths—each one understood the powerful dance between culture and change. 

Crafting a Cultural Strategy for Effective Communications 

Regarding communications fueled by cultural strategy, it’s important to remember that they don’t start from scratch. Instead, they tap into existing cultural expressions, ideologies, and myths that resonate with specific audiences. 

To embark on this journey, delve into the culture surrounding your social issue. Understand its conventions and codes. It involves identifying key opportunities within a particular historical and societal context. With this foundation in place, weave cultural codes and research into your storytelling, framing, and messaging. 

Diving into Participatory Culture 

With a robust communication strategy in hand, the path to motivating, garnering support, or showcasing potential social change becomes more apparent. But the secret ingredient lies in audience participation. Participatory culture forms the bedrock of this effort, creating a nurturing environment for artistic expression and civic engagement. This sense of community is woven by the belief that each individual’s input matters, fostering interconnectedness. 

Communication takes center stage in nurturing this vibrant participation. As interactions seamlessly flow between different online and offline communities, a rich tapestry of conflicting values and viewpoints emerges. This collision of perspectives sparks deep explorations into shared experiences and artifacts. The constant interplay ensures that people are consistently pushed to confront the diversity of cultures they encounter. 

In the grand performance of societal evolution, Cultural Strategy is the script, the stage, and the guiding star. The melody harmonizes with the rhythms of change and the canvas on which the picture of a just world is painted. 

Connecting it all

Disruptive communications and social change form a dynamic force that has the potential to have an impact on social issues. As we navigate the complex terrain of advocating for change, it’s evident that communication holds the key to unlocking lasting solutions. 

By transcending the superficiality of digital activism and embracing strategies rooted in cultural evolution, communicators can bridge the gap between intention and action. Cultural strategy emerges as a guiding light, illuminating the path toward effective communication that harnesses existing cultural nuances to drive awareness and engagement. As participatory culture weaves a tapestry of interconnectedness, communication takes center stage in facilitating meaningful interactions and fostering the exploration of diverse perspectives. 

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