Social Media for Social Movements: Lessons Learned from #GoogleWalkout

A teal background with the words “Social Media for Social Movements: Lessons Learned from #GoogleWalkout” in white.

#GoogleWalkout went viral, trending around the world and still being covered by international media one year later. On the day of the walkout, we reached 3.2 million impressions just on @GoogleWalkout’s tweets alone.

In the year since, workplace organizing in tech has seen incredible growth. We’ve been so inspired by additional actions at other companies, and often get asked for a list of best practices in this space.

With that in mind, here are the social media guidelines that have helped make #GoogleWalkout a success. There are 11 guidelines, all keeping with three main “golden rules.” If you take just three things away from this guide, make it these tips:

Three social media for social movements golden rules: Show and tell, keep up momentum, and remain accessible.

We’ll dive into those three a bit later, but let’s get started!

Choose a memorable handle, hashtag, and icon/banner.

Your handle should ideally declare your movement/action in a word or two. We were able to grab @GoogleWalkout, and it’s served us well. An added benefit of this sort of handle? It can be used as your hashtag, as well, making your account easier to find.

If what you’re organizing around can’t be succinctly summed up, go the @EthicalGooglers route and declare what you stand for. A bonus: that sort of handle can be reused if you end up needing to organize around additional, more separate issues.

A common pitfall: organizers will occasionally try to use their own personal Twitter accounts to centralize a movement. We struggle to think of a situation where this is a better strategy than creating a new account, especially if your personal account doesn’t already have a very large following. Ego is where movements go to die — don’t play into it! This is bigger than you now.

Your icon and banner, though less important, go a long way in giving your movement a polished look. Settle on a few colors and stick to them. If your icon has text, make sure it’s sparse and large enough to read. For this reason, using an entire flyer as an icon isn’t a good move, though you’re often able to pull one image from it. Photopea.com is a great online version of Photoshop, and it’s free.

Formulate messaging and stay on it.

Develop your goals, convert them into words, and hammer them home whenever you see an opening. If people come away with one or two things from your post, what should they be? This is what you’ll structure your content around.

Often, your demands are your messaging. If you’re bringing something to light, ie as a whistleblower, a quick summary of that content is your messaging.

All you need is Twitter — usually.

Twitter is where tech movements specifically have thrived; beyond just @GoogleWalkout, see @EthicalGooglers, @WayfairWalkout, @AmznForClimate, and more. There’s some appeal to having an Instagram, but unless you’re using a social media management tool (more on that later) the lower engagement is rarely worth the effort.

Use a social media manager to handle multiple accounts and schedule posts. Be mindful of timing.

There are a few sites that allow you to manage all of your social media accounts from one place. Their main advertised benefit of cross-posting to multiple accounts often doesn’t apply, but it’s immensely helpful when it comes to scheduling tweets! Timing is important — you want to be posting your most important content earlier in the day, earlier in the week, if at all possible. Avoid Friday afternoon drops, as you’re cutting yourself off from the press cycle.

We use Hootsuite as our social media manager, as it’s relatively simple and allows for lots of flexibility. There’s a free plan and a paid plan. The free plan lets you have up to 30 scheduled Tweets at a time, which should be enough! If you’re running a specific timeboxed campaign, however (see #WalkoutYearInReview — 48 tweets in 12 hours!) you may want to go for the free 30 day trial of the unlimited paid plan. If you ultimately don’t have use for the paid plan beyond the 30 days, don’t forget to cancel before they charge you, as it’s not cheap.

Keep up momentum. Start a drumbeat.

#GoogleWalkout was a media success in large part because we walked out at 11am local time around the world. This supplied us with a steady stream of content over a multi-day period (some offices had November 1st off and walked out on their next work day). Reporters were on the edge of their seats waiting for the next flood of photos to come in as it hit 11am in a new time zone, both from @GoogleWalkout and from other Google workers posting their own photos in the hashtag — which we made sure to tweet from @GoogleWalkout.

If your action lends itself to this sort of tactic at all, take advantage of it.

There’s a time and a place for different outlets.

Medium is your friend, but know when to go bigger. Things like press releases, this guide, etc, make sense for Medium. We’re speaking to our followers, which in our case at @GoogleWalkout means other tech workers and journalists. Judge your preferred outlet for every piece based on what sort of reach you’re looking for. Know your goals!

Every post should have a purpose.

It can be tempting to share content for the sake of it, as it’s important not to go silent for a long time. That said, unless you’re intentionally expanding your scope make sure you’re not straying off message.

Show don’t tell — well, don’t just tell.

When possible, use visuals. This both gives the press images for their articles and helps provide a “face” for the movement. It doesn’t need to be an actual face! In the case of #GoogleWalkout, there are a few iconic photos that emerged showcasing individuals, but the sheer size of the crowd was our main visual hook alongside catchy signs.

Photos create an emotional appeal, an air of relatability. They often spark emotions in people more than just written words.

Some multimedia ideas:

  • Are you making signs? Document the sign making process.
  • Are people physically gathering somewhere? Take photos showing the size of the crowd.
  • Is someone making a speech? Video and post clips — even better, post a transcript as additional tweets in the thread.
  • Is your action individually distributed, ie people logging out of an app at a specific time? Post a photo of the logout screen. Encourage people to post signs (it can just be a piece of paper with a sentence in Sharpie) in your hashtag, then retweet them. For a lower risk option, in case people are afraid to attach their account to the action, let people know they can DM you their signs and you’ll post them yourself.

An important caveat on all of this is to make sure you’re utilizing accessibility best practices.

Make sure your content is accessible.

If you’re not adhering to accessibility best practices, you’re alienating so many people from your action. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.

On Twitter, this looks like:

  1. Adding alt-text to your images (check out this simple guide).
  2. Never posting a screenshot of text without posting the same content as text. Sighted people often feel posting a screenshot is a great way to get around Twitter’s 280 character limit, not realizing they’re cutting off people who use screen readers (typically those who are low vision or blind) from their message.
  3. Making sure your graphics meet the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) color contrast standard. As you are making your graphics, utilize WebAIM’s contrast checker to be sure your color choices won’t make your content inaccessible to those with low vision, low contrast vision, or color vision deficiency.

Reach out to more established accounts for support, and keep your DMs open.

@GoogleWalkout has been boosted by politicians, workers at other companies, activists working on related movements, and other accounts which already had thousands of followers. We now return the favor. A quick DM is worth the effort.

You’ll also want to keep your DMs open, as press will be looking to get in touch with you.

Pick and choose which reporters you speak to, and go into an interview with a goal.

You’re going to get DMs from all sorts of reporters. Make sure you look into their past work before agreeing to an interview, on or off the record (or on background). We’ve had reporters with one outlet in their Twitter bio turn out to be writing for a much different publication who would be hostile to our goals. If you’re thinking of taking an interview, make sure you ask who they’re writing for, and do a quick search for their most recent pieces.

Never go into an interview without a specific goal in mind, and know you don’t need to respond to every DM you get — not by a long shot.

Don’t feed the trolls.

You’ll have them, we all do. It’s often best to just leave them be, as opposed to engaging. Don’t respond to their tweets, leave their DMs in your spam. You don’t want to end up accidentally elevating their voice by drawing attention to it. Use Twitter’s report feature if warranted.

We look forward to working with you in the future — remember, our DMs are open! When we fight together, we win together, and we’re by your side.

#GoogleWalkout 11/1 11:10am to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace that doesn’t work for everyone. Views ≠ Google.