Today’s Social Media Campaigns

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, Today’s Social Media Campaigns, Jerusalem Post Blogs, 28 August 2011

Everyone wants a social media campaign; they’re just not quite sure what it is. Every marketing student, blogger and self styled activist wants to be known as a “social media expert”. This post looks at two social media campaigns of particular relevance to today, Gilad Shalit’s birthday, and what we can learn from them.

The idea for this campaign came from Melissa Jane Kronfeld and the campaign itself, which started two years ago, was spearheaded by Melissa and the JIDF.  They had the good sense to make it a decentralised grassroots campaign that anyone could join and that any organisation could endorse. Endorsements came from Chabad, the Israeli Consulate in New York, HonestReporting, my own Zionism On The Web and many others.

The campaign ran for 24 hours and sought to make #GiladShalit a trending topic on Twitter. It  was a huge success and met its goal despite competition from Big Brother, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the release of Snow Leopard (Mac OS X, version 10.6).  Tweet4Shalit and related Gilad Shalit campaigns are considered a major online phenomenon in Israel’s social media landscape.

The original Tweet4Shalit campaign was a professional campaign. It was a single medium campaign with a clear goal – to get Gilad into the news. Significant effort went into press releases, e-mails to organisations, and the leveraging of existing networks. Planning was conducted weeks in advance, and on the day everything was set to go. Progress updates were sent throughout the campaign, and tangible results got more people involved as the day progressed. In the end what made this campaign a success was the drive of the JIDF’s founder and his determination for the campaign to succeed, regardless of the personal cost.

Today grassroots activists are keeping the campaign alive at where supporters can click a button to send a message. I just sent mine which reads: “#GiladShalit’s 6th bday in Hamas captivity. Im #272 to tweet his wish for freedom bc he cant. Will you #tweet4shalit?”. The goal is 500 messages in one day, a modest total in comparison to the original Tweet4Shalit campaign which took 0.2% of all traffic on Twitter for the 24 hours period and made international headlines.

The current Tweet4Shalit campaign is an example of grassroots activism by regular users. It uses well established techniques and is exactly two years behind the leading edge of modern online campaigning. Campaigns of this nature are far less newsworthy, and are also less likely to excite the technology enthusiasts who serve as catalysts for campaigns going viral. The secret to success in this type of a campaign is user friendliness and to eliminate all entry barriers. does this very well. Follow a link to the site, and two clicks later, with no typing at all, you’ve left your mark. Success for such a campaign depends on grassroots activism and enthusiasm. It relies on many people putting in 10 seconds each, and on the nature of Twitter itself where the desired action also spreads the message to new potential participants.

The Meet Gilad campaign, and I best declare an interest here as its director, began as a response to fatigue with polls and petitions. The public were losing interest in “signing on” to yet another statement, and those receiving the petitions were more liable to ignore them. Large petitions were becoming too common. Originally (in 2010) the site allowed people to add their own personal messages.  This was quite successful, but it lacked buy in from those who could really push the campaign – major Jewish organisations. In response the site was replaced with a custom built “Meet Gilad 2.0” platform.

The new platform was designed to be multilingual and to capture messages in multiple languages, including Hebrew. It added profile pages for participating organisations which displayed their contribution to the campaign. The campaign also included a twitter account @meetgilad, a Facebook page, and regularly updated news within the site itself. It included instructions for organisations and individuals wanting to assist with online and off line campaigning.

Activity was devolved to the organised grassroots and in total 34 organisations signed up to the campaign. Presentations took place in Washington, New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  The site is still accepting messages, but the current “batch” of messages has been printed, bound, and will be delivered to the Shalit Family and the UN.

The Meet Gilad campaign provides an alternative approach to low entry barrier mass campaigning. It relied on buy in from communal organisations and aimed for deep and meaningful engagement rather than a broad mass involvement. Having to write a personal message for Gilad left many people lost for words. At the same time it led to greater commitment from those who participated.

The campaign was cutting edge, both in its campaigning approach, which mirrored communal structures, with parent organisations automatically including the activity of their children organisations and local branches, and in its linguistic inclusiveness. It was made possible through custom software which was packed with features, as well regular use of existing social media technologies. Such approaches come at a cost. In this case resources redirected to this campaign (both existing staff time and money spent) came to over $50 thousand dollars. Whether it is paid for by cash, redirected staff time, or the time of volunteers, those wanting a professional campaign need to able to meet the price.

The take away message for today

Managing online campaigns requires time, skill and resources.  It is becoming ever more professional. The skills to plan, build, manage and promote a campaign are specialist skills. To do it properly requires the services of a range of specialists, from artists, video producers and sound engineers, to user interface designers and programmers.

There is a role for the social media savvy entrepreneur, but contributing to a campaign and designing and running one from scratch are very different things.  Those wanting social media campaigns need to know the difference between a social media expert and a social media user; both are important for campaigns, but they play very different roles. The one creates the campaign, the other shares it.

It is still possible for something to go viral without professional support, but it is increasingly rare.  The cost of good social media campaigns is rising as we become more dependent on videos and on cross platform integration. Social media experts need to realise the importance of collaboration as social media projects become more complex

In the end, the most important parts of a campaign are the cause and the message.  On that note, I invite you to do your part for Gilad Shalit by sharing this article in social media or by e-mail. Feel free to summarize, link, tweet or simply repost it. We have 24 hours, and the clock has already started ticking.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the UK and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in political science in Israel. He can be contacted at or via twitter @oboler.