Is communication key to creating a social movement?

communication-groupOne of the key challenges we’ve come across during this project is how to communicate a message to a group of people the size of the town of Wisbech.

It seems a universal call to action doesn’t work across every constituent arm of King’s. We’ve found that a one-size-fits-all is not applicable to a population of 33,000, nor when the groups are as diverse as young students, cynical academics and diverse professional services staff. Instead, a message tailored to the specific audience is needed.

One of the main challenging aspects of communication for this project is trying to avoid the sense that 33,000 Everyday Artists is a top-down initiative, and is instead a bottom-up movement. Unfortunately emails directly to KCL accounts give this impression. Furthermore, the tone, language and style are of crucial importance.

The various target audiences who comprise King’s have differing dispositions and characteristics so not only does the message have to be tailored towards them, but the platform of communication as well.

For students, official university emails are not read or at least not engaged with. Social media (specifically Instagram and Facebook) have been the best means of communicating to this segment of King’s. For professional services staff, email has been the most successful mode. The hardest group to crack has been academics as email does not work for them because it is viewed a chore and something additional to do.

The one thing we’ve found that applies to the entire population of King’s is that face-to-face communication goes a long way. Hearing the project from a personal angle, being able to associate it with particular faces, and having a captive audience has had a significant bearing on the engagement with and uptake of the project. This is evident in that after a lecture drop-in or staff meeting there is a sharp increase in profile uploads to the 33,000 Everyday Artists website.

Communication has emerged to be a critical aspect of what enables and/or constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity. More specifically:

  • Audience segmentation, both in terms of message and platform, is essential.
  • Although we have been wary of ‘instrumentalisation’, having some sort of incentive to attract participants (even just that it’s fun) has made a difference.
  • In a large institution where there is sometimes distrust of senior management, it’s important to make your project not be seen as top-down or corporate.

Fielding (2006) argues in his book Effective Communication in Organisations that there are different levels of communication in organisations. These include: organizational; mass; small-group; interpersonal; public; and intrapersonal. Furthermore, communication is made up of the following elements: sender; receiver; message; code; medium; and channel.

Going forward with the project, or reflecting on how we might have done things differently, it is potentially worth thinking in terms of these communication ‘levels’ and ‘elements’ to gain the impact needed to harness 33,000 people.

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