04 October 2012


Years ago, a social cause starts at the local level and in time goes up the chain of national or even global consciousness. This grassroots movement has been the backbone of most social, political, and environmental projects in terms of propagating the advocacy (the message). That was until social networks such as Facebook and You Tube.

The idea behind using a social network to promote an advocacy is still the same as starting with a grassroots movement. One spreads the message to a core audience and this group propagates it down to their own circles and so on and so forth.

The difference with something like Facebook is technology. Creating content is easy as typing it in and sending it out. No more printing press, media coverage, or even posters needed to propagate it. Spreading the message further is as easy as just clicking the “Like” button. The penetration from grassroots to mainstream using social networks can almost be immediate, Kony and SM Baguio being prime examples.

A Ugandan and Pine Trees

Last March, A group called Invisible Children released a video about a Ugandan war criminal, Kony. In a span of three weeks, the video went viral and garnered over 100 million views, 86 million of that in You Tube alone. The whole world suddenly knew about Kony. World governments, including the US started to take action.

Prior to the video, Kony was unknown outside of Uganda. The Kony 2012 movement shed light on the criminal and it is said that half of the youth in the US alone, knew about Kony.

A month later, in local events, a local mall in Baguio city started operations to cut down 200 pine trees to make room for a parking lot. Overnight, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with messages denouncing the operations. The resulting reaction halted the tree cutting and SM to proclaim their advocacy to green projects.

Voices Carry, Money Follows

The examples above showed the power of social networks. It can accomplish propagation in a manner of days what traditional methods would take weeks or even months to do; at a fraction of the cost to do it. Inversely, social networks garner more donations per user compared to traditional ones.

According to the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, the average value garnered from one person pressing “LIKE” is US$3.50 in one month and exponentially to US$214 in 12 months.

A concrete example of this is Karen Klein. Klein, who is a 68 year old school bus monitor in the US was featured in a YouTube video being bullied by the students she was tasked to look after. Hurtful and offensive words were hurled at her in the ten minute clip which garnered eight million views. Max Sidorov of Toronto Canada initiated a donation drive in the website, indiegogo.com. His goal is to raiseUS$5,000 for Karen to take a vacation.

As of June 25, Klein has received US$682,000 in donations from viewers who were touched by her plight. She plans to use the money to retire, go on vacation, and help out her family.

The Science Behind Social

To understand the flow of propagation in social networks, we have to look at three rules; Pareto’s Principle, The Law of Diminishing Returns, and the 1% rule. Pareto’s Principle states that the majority of an action is done by the minority of inputs. It is also known as the 80-20 rule. 80% of an effect is caused by 20% of the action.

The Law of Diminishing Returns in social network terms suggest that the more the message is propagated, the percentage of sharers decrease. It must be noted that it is not the actual of shares that go down but the percentage of people who share it relative to the total users reached. But in time, it will reach a point where there will be no shares done anymore.

The 1% rule is similar to Pareto’s principle but is specific to the internet culture. The rule states that only 1% of people who have been exposed to the message will actually participate. Participation here should not be confused to sharing. Sharing in this context means to push the message to one’s social circle (pressing the LIKE button). Participating is being involved actively in the cause which is more than just pressing “LIKE” or sharing, the term “engaging the user” is usually applied here.

To put it simply, a facebook message is shared by 20% of the recipients to their own social circles. As the message spreads, the number of shares goes down. And out of everyone who shares the message, only 1% will truly participate.

It is said that the average shelf life of a Facebook message is 18 hours. Video posts increases shelf life at an average 16% while photos and images at 9%. If that message is not shared within that time frame, it expires and likely to be forgotten.

Propagation should start from the beginning and if it doesn’t catch on within 18 hours, it can be considered a failed attempt.


One thing that is still a mystery with social causes in Facebook is sustainability. The overall theory behind the science shows real low numbers and slow participation. Even with a successful launch and initial reaction, there is a wall that everyone hits; sustaining the message.

Kony 2012 garnered 100 million views and gained worldwide attention. Invisible Children did a follow up video the next month called Kony 2012 Part 2: Beyond Famous. It only garnered 2 million views.

SM Baguio’s Pine Tree Incident is hardly top of mind with people these days. Even if the issue is still in the courts and is not yet truly resolved, there is not much buzz about it anymore.

This does not take away the fact that there were positive changes that resulted in the initial attempts. There were. But there comes a point that even the most important causes will subside from mainstream interest and will revert back to the grassroots.

Social Lessons

Social carries big numbers; 900 million registered Facebook users, Youtube video uploads of an average 72 hours of video per minute, and twitter feeds at 100,000 tweets per minute. Given these, it is a big and important channel to take advantage for propagation.

But to utilize these effectively, one must step out of the box and strategize it outside of traditional methods. Content doesn’t have to be slick and well made, what’s important is substance. Propagation should be almost instant and should be monitored from the beginning. But most of all, users should find something from it they can relate to or find interesting or relevant.

Kony 2012 showed how far a message can go, SM Baguio showed how fast it can hit mainstream, and Karen Klein saw how fruitful it can be.