Social Change Communication Connects Us!


Not about technology

“Communications seeks to connect and move us, to make complex problems seem intuitive and solvable.” Alfred Ironside, Vice President for Global Communications Ford Foundation

Social change communication connects us!

I was introduced to the transformative effect of social change communication when I started working on social change initiatives.

Social change is a process focused on altering the social order of society. It takes place on a local community level or becomes social movements on a grander scale.

In an earlier post, I described the 5 Indicators of Social Change:

  1. Make New Meaning
  • Shift definitions – An issue or idea is given new meaning. A community or society sees the issue differently. For example, rape is understood as an act of violence with legal and civil consequences, not as an act of sexual transgression.
  1. Empower Different Behavior
  • Shift behavior – An individual and/or community does things differently and for the better. This creates empowerment. For example, women seek appropriate healthcare for themselves and their families.
  1. Life Up Collective Power
  • Shift engagement – More people are engaged in an idea of action. When enough people get involved they are noticed, their voices are heard and they create impact.
  1. Ensure Just Policy
  • Shift policy – Policies and practices change to better serve social change ideas.
  1. Hold the Line
  • Maintain gains – Work to not lose ground from previous endeavors. For example, funding for breast cancer research is saved from budget cuts.

Transformative communication is a process whereby people are challenged and empowered to change belief systems and behaviors.

Social Change Communication Tools

  • Social Change Communication is critical at every stage. This begins from the moment someone shares her passion and connects with others, through the exchange of ideas. Communication provides the frame for advocacy and activism. It is central to sustaining the social movement itself, as well as in shaping how the movement influences social change. “We are one but we are many.” (Panos London)
  • Narrative communication recount stories, express opinions or give information about past events from the perspective of the storyteller. Narratives provide an experience people can understand and share.

“I know from experience that when two people sit down to tell stories from their lives and to listen, something happens. Together maybe they learn, they forgive, they cry, they remember. Something in them moves, even if it’s just a tiny bit. Storytelling and Social Change offers valuable guidance for people who want to use the practice of telling and listening to stories to make a positive difference in their communities.” —Dave Isay, founder and president of StoryCorps


  • The rise of social media holds promise for increased social change communication. Social network websites such as Facebook provide easy ways to find and connect with people who have similar feelings.
  • New media platforms are used to launch viral campaign and create digital waves.

Jennifer Aaka and Andy Smith, authors of The Dragonfly Effect, show how social media technology can support social missions. Nonprofit consultant Beth Kanter has shown how social media tools have been used to create social change, including helping children in Cambodian orphanages.

  • The POST Method, developed by Forrester Research, provides a framework for blending traditional and new media. It is really simple, yet profound in that it provides a user-friendly system for using traditional and emerging communications channels. The acronym refers to the four-step approach:

P is People

Don’t start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you’re targeting college students, use social networks. If you’re reaching out to business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don’t start without thinking about it.

O is Objectives

Pick one. Are you starting an application to listen to your customers, or to talk with them? To support them, or to energize your best customers to evangelize others? Or are you trying to collaborate with them? Decide on your objective   before  you decide on a technology. Then figure out how you will measure it.

S is Strategy

Strategy here means figuring out what will be different after you’re done. Do you want a closer, two-way relationship with your best customers? Do you want to get people talking about your products? Do you want a permanent focus group for testing product ideas and generating new ones? Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterward? Imagine the endpoint and you’ll know where to begin.

T is Technology

A community. A wiki. A blog or a hundred blogs. Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, then you can decide with confidence.

  • Social marketing, not to be confused with social media marketing,  is the systematic application of marketing to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. Social marketing is said to have “two parents”—a “social parent,” created from social sciences and social policy, and a “marketing parent,”  developed from commercial and public sector marketing approaches.

Social change communication brings people together to work collectively for the betterment of their lives and communities. It provides opportunities for engagement and inclusion like never before!

How does social change communication influence your work? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The basis of this post is an article I wrote for CharityChannel Press entitled Importance of Communication to Social Movements and Social Change.

My next post focuses on the importance of communication to successful advocacy.