What’s Different About the Parkland Shooting?

On February 14, 2018, news broke that a gunman was on the loose at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. In the aftermath, students at Stoneman Douglas were left to cope with the reality that 17 of their classmates had died from gun violence. At first, the tragedy seemed like another notch in the flag post of our nation’s ongoing struggles with gun violence, but the students at Stoneman Douglas quickly channeled their grief into activism. What evolved was a grassroots movement around the hashtags #EnoughIsEnough and #NeverAgain, ultimately leading to a nationwide movement called “March for Our Lives.”  The swiftness with which students organized the movement was impressive, but it begged the question: What was different about the Parkland shooting that people were so motivated to organize in response to it?

There were a number of factors that contributed to the organizational success of the March for Our Lives movement. Unlike the students from the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Stoneman Douglas students had more channels to communicate their thoughts online, and they quickly earned visibility through viral speeches. The Parkland students are different because they represent a large cohort of young people that are proficient with social media.

In fact, according to Pew Research, “some 88% of 18-to-29-year-olds indicate that they use any form of social media.” This age group is also more likely to use platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Knowing the frequency with which young folks use social media, it comes as no surprise that the Parkland survivors turned to these platforms to organize this national movement. They turned to social media to manage the crisis at hand, and it worked.

As one journalist noted, “By documenting their experiences, victims could give loved ones instant updates, receive prayers and sympathy in return, and perhaps even feel some sense of control. They also created a public record that cannot be ignored or sanitized, forcing Americans to again reckon with the political numbness to mass shootings.” Eventually, this reckoning on social media evolved into tactics to target lawmakers, and it worked in the students’ favor.

For Parkland students, the goal was to reach lawmakers and take action to prevent another tragedy. In this case, lawmakers were the influencers students needed to make a real change. By targeting their lawmakers via Twitter, Parkland students demonstrated an interest in speaking to them, and this ultimately led to a town hall. Continuing their influencer engagement, Parkland students continued to meet with lawmakers, grassroots activists, and celebrities to discuss their policy goals. In this way, they were able to consistently reiterate their message to lawmakers: Enough is enough. Repeat messaging is crucial in influencer marketing, and it ultimately worked in the students’ favor. Overall, this illustrates how strategic influencer marketing can deliver real results if executed properly.

In this case, the Parkland students recognized that their target audience included a mix of people:

  • Registered voters: They could pass policy by getting to the polls.
  • Lawmakers: They could design the policy and advocate for it.
  • Unregistered voters: They could further apply pressure on lawmakers by registering to vote, and then voting for/against the policies they design.

To execute their influencer strategy, Parkland students had a multipronged approach in engaging their influencers based on the actions those influencers could take. For instance, knowing that lawmakers design the policies at hand, the Parkland students met with them to discuss what those policies might look like, and offer input for improving said policies. With voters, Parkland students had a different approach. Voters had to be informed, and then mobilized to contact their legislators. Finally, unregistered voters had to be targeted with a similar approach of being informed and thereby activated to register to vote. With an influx in registered voters, the Parkland students could thereby apply additional pressure on lawmakers designing the policy.

Part of the outreach involved in this strategy included direct tweets. The Parkland students directly tweetedlawmakers to outline their demands. To reach voters, Parkland students devised the hashtag #VoteThemOut to encourage citizens to eliminate politicians backed by the NRA, and this functioned as a rallying cry to register new voters. The Parkland students activated influencers by consistently repeating their messaging and encouraging others to do so as well. Though the tragedy that Parkland students experienced was not unique in the United States, their response was. Overall, the lesson learned from their influencer engagement is this:

  • Identify your goal
    • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Identify your audiences and influencers?
    • Who will be impacted by your goal? Whose support do you need to accomplish this goal? What are their interests? What might they gain from joining your mission?
  • Identify your tactics.
    • What do you need to do to reach out to your influencers? How can they be reached?
  • Execute.
    • Keep reaching out to your influencers until you get a response.
    • Consider alternative compromises that might need to be made in order to secure influencer support.

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