How to Motivate Over 500K People to Take Social Action via Social Media, with Ben Relles
Can social media be a galvanizing force of social action? And can online influence be leveraged to effect real-world change? We speak to Ben Relles, who has teamed up with headcount.org to help tackle voter registration and turn-out in the upcoming election.
As Head of Innovation at YouTube Originals, Ben understands the strong relationship that creators have with their online fan bases. Ben realized that even though creators have millions of engaged fans, traditional “get out the vote” messaging wasn’t necessarily motivating action.
So he started something called “Good To Vote,” outside of his job at YouTube. The basic premise would be to inject gamification into online talent’s social messaging.
Essentially, creators provide rewards to their fanbase in return for taking social action. Ben describes it from the creators’ point of view: “Voter registration is important, so if a thousand of you register using my custom link then here’s what I’ll give back to you. And that could be shaving their beard, an old audition tape, it could be a collaboration that the fans are asking for. It essentially made it so fans could unlock something cool from the creator that they watch all the time.”
Ben initially launched the concept with Michael Stevens, host of VSauce. Michael presented a challenge to his fans: if 500 register to vote, he would shave his beard. They ended up far surpassing the challenge and registered 1,200 people within a day.
After their initial success, Ben and his team realized they were on to something. He tells us, “The fans love it. They aren’t feeling like they are being preached to because they are getting something back. And the creators are actually posting more because they have something interesting to post.”
On the subject of registration Ben says, “If somebody isn’t inclined to do something, reminding them to do it can be tough. It’s tough to persuade people that way. We’re still reminding them how important it is to vote, but we are also giving them a reason to take action.”
One of the important factors was also the “independent” nature of their program’s messaging. Since registering to vote is a non-partisan stance, it presents a cause that everyone can get behind.
To date, the group have completed over a hundred of these programs with creators, actors, musicians, and celebrities. As of publishing, they’ve registered 160,000 new voters and an additional 400,000 have verified their registration.
Some examples of Good to Vote initiatives:
-a Mean Girls cast reunion
-Samuel Jackson teaching fans to curse in 15 languages
-Jeff Goldbloom re-enacts a scene from Jurassic Park
-a GLOW cast reunion
-a David Dobrik-led Tesla giveaway (which drove a whopping 120,000+ registrations).
-Josh Gad recapping all of Avengers as the voice of Frozen’s Olaf
-Florence Pugh teaching us how to cook
One key to success, according to Ben, is the effective combination of entertainment with social action in an authentic way. He says, “I was always skeptical of these celebrity [voting] montages where it’s ten actors in a row, they each get one line of text, it goes through one-by-one, and it ends with a message.” His skepticism was due, in part, because the celebrities always read from a script.
The effectiveness of this campaign instead lies in its ability to allow creators and celebrities to take the message directly to their fanbase on their own terms, in their own words, in an authentic manner. In doing so, they hope to truly solve for social action via social media.