What communicators can learn from Occupy Wall Street

As Occupy Wall Street enters its eighth week, there are many takeaways that we can glean from the movement - regardless of your feelings about it.

As Occupy Wall Street enters its eighth week, there are many takeaways that we can glean from the movement - regardless of your feelings about it. 

It has successfully connected thousands of individuals around the world, proactively using social media and the power of online engagement. The movement has been able to generate significant media coverage resulting in key influential audiences taking notice. And more recently, OWS has raised substantial sums of money through donations – providing it with the capital every movement needs to maintain its momentum.

However, I can't say that it has been completely successful when there is still speculation as to what its ultimate goal really is. Is it a socialist movement looking to level set the classes? Is it a civil movement designed to hold the government accountable to the people? Or is it simply a platform to voice discontent on topics ranging from healthcare to the environment? All I know for certain is that it is growing and it has no borders.

The movement has missed one critical component to be successful – it has not developed a clear agenda and concise messages to deliver to its captive audience. A movement, much like a corporation, must control its own narrative. Without a clear message, the void could temporarily be filled with a single polarizing figure to rally behind or a person for outsiders to identify the movement with. But this is one thing OWS has been clear on: there will not be a single leader; they are all leaders. History has proven that for this concept to work, the movement must have a structured agenda and clearly defined and achievable goals.

OWS is not the first “leaderless movement” to rise up. The Women's Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s lacked an individual leader but resulted in legislative change, particularly in the workplace. Much of the recent Arab Spring came about through leaderless movements that focused on complete regime change. The difference between these successes and the current movement is a lack of a unified message and actionable change.

Contrasting OWS with the successful movements of the past may be unfair at this stage of its infancy, but we can definitely identify the clear lack of stated goals as a potential hindrance in the movement's future accomplishments. 

As a professional communicator, it pains me to see wasted opportunities. We all know you need to craft a compelling narrative and hone its delivery before exposing yourself to skeptics. Leveraging the media and other speaking opportunities to influence those in a position to affect change is always a core component to any communications campaign. As communicators, we can learn from how the movement has rallied people around the world, leveraging new digital mediums, but OWS could, in turn, learn from the very people they are protesting against. It could develop and deliver a narrative that is clear, concise and actionable. 

Ryan Barr is managing director of IGB Group.

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