5 things you can do right now to start a movement

If you want to spark action around your social mission, you'll need your emails at the ready, an eye on irresponsible business and a knack for first grade story-telling. At the second Dirty Rotten Social, How to start a movement, Joe Wade of Don't Panic, Matt Davis of Shareaction, Jess Search of BRITDOC and Paul Hilder of Change.org, shared their expert knowledge on starting movements.

1. Tell a seriously great story (scientifically proven to work)

Jess Search is an epic storyteller, former channel 4 commissioning editor and founder of BRITDOC, a documentary film foundation, that works with charities and NGOs to engage people in pressing social issues. Her job is to create gripping documentary films so that people engage with an issue and do something about it. And her advice to all aspiring movement makers was not just to tell a story, but to tell one that is so powerful that it would “soften a drug dealer like a good glass of wine”.

Here's the science behind it. If you tell a story that resonates and transports an audience into the world of a character – palms sweating, hearts racing – oxytocin the ‘love hormone’, or ‘moral molecule’, is released into the brain. After researching oxytocin neuroscientists have found that it’s the hormone that makes us empathetic. When it is released into our brains we become more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate and motivated to engage to help others. 

So a story well told could be that moment of enlightenment needed to turn a life around, change a mindset and start a movement.

2. Make a video that will go viral

The key ingredient behind YouTube films that create newsworthy buzz is  “a strong idea,” not high quality production, says Joe Wade. And he should know, because the success he has had to date gives him a legitimate claim to the viral throne. So that's good news if you don't have access to high quality production. A great idea, clever structure and good story is what makes a film trend.

Take the film Don’t Panic created for Save the Children to help people empathise with the plight of Syrian kids. It's well produced but that's not its selling point. It shows how a British girl’s life might deteriorate if war breaks out. A strong but simple idea brings the plight of Syrian children home. And, its ability to resonate with an audience has earned the film more than 29 million views on YouTube.

The film took its lead from what was already trending on YouTube and Vimeo – the one-second-a-day video, where people use one minute clips to create short video mementos of everyday life or exotic travel. The narrative follows a pattern of build-up, disaster, aftermath, inspired by an eighties docudrama called Threads – a realistic account of the impact of nuclear war. Base your film on user-generated content that's trending, use tried and tested narratives and you could have a viral winner. Wade's latest example of viral expertise was a film for Greenpeace, which caused Lego to break ties with Shell.

3. Become a 'share activist'

You might feel powerless to change the ingrained behaviours of the world’s largest organisations, and the negative impact that has on your social or environmental mission. But the truth is you aren’t. Matt Davis is head of media and communications at Shareaction, a UK charity devoted to campaigning for Responsible Investment. His advice was if you wan’t to spark action, become a 'share activist'. If your mission is to tackle homelessness, you could buy a share in a company that builds houses, go to their annual general meeting (AGM) and start asking questions.

If there is a demand from a shareholder it is in the interest of a CEO to listen, and smart questions can lead to revised corporate behaviour. One example Davis gave was the case of  John Field who attended the Greggs AGM to ask the largest bakery chain in the UK about farm animal welfare. Greggs CEO Roger Whiteside has since confirmed that Greggs has committed to improving its animal welfare standards. It has set an objective of achieving 'tier three' in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) – that's up two tiers from Greggs’ current rank – by 2016. This would place Greggs alongside the likes of the Nestle and UK supermarket chain Waitrose according to the BBFAW scoring system, which groups businesses into six tiers. Tier three means animal welfare standard are established but there's work to be done.

4. Get really good at emailing

38 Degrees, is an organisation, which shows emails can spark movements. Based on a simple plan for enabling collective action, members sign up to 38 degrees, vote on themes they want to engage with and find ways to do it. Once there’s a path to action, the power of the collective is summoned via email – thousands respond, act, and create change. The key is to “know your goal and repeat your message from diverse angles,” said Paul Hilder, Vice-President of Global Campaigns at Change.Org who also sits on the board of 38 Degrees. It might be ignored the first time; it might not get through the second time; the third time it will resonate.

5. Meet up, talk… act

Meeting like-minded people, talking, sharing ideas is at the root of all movements. Find people on meetup. Meet like-minded people on Pioneers Post (oops self-plug). But seriously, a range of very interesting people write for us, and we write about them. Or, go to an event, there are many. The next Dirty Rotten Social is coming up on 11 November and the theme will be The Rise of the Business Geniuses. And there’s Good Deals, the UK’s social investment conference on 24 and 25 November, where you’ll find people from all sectors looking to make a difference, whether that’s in the charity and social enterprise space, in the public sector or from within big business. As this year's theme, Playtime’s Over pervades sessions, speeches and down-time, you’ll hear progressive ideas and learn practical lessons. And you might meet the people you need to get behind your cause.