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Home » Organizing » Building Power Through Social Media

Building Power Through Social Media


by Matt Plummer, Organizer, AFM Organizing & Education Division

In the last decade, overall use of social media has skyrocketed. People spend almost 2.5 hours a day on average using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Many musicians have tapped into social media to build their audience, create stronger relationships with fans, increase recording and merchandise sales, distribute their music, and boost ticket sales. Throughout much of the music world, it’s now conventional wisdom that musicians must heavily engage with social media.

At the same time, rank-and-file workers are increasingly leveraging these tools to build collective power and make their voices heard. And musicians are no exception: from orchestra members, to freelancers calling for better instrument carry-on rules, to recording musicians, to the indie artists of the Content Creators Coalition.

Now more than ever, social media is indispensable to any organizing campaign. And the online voices of AFM members and our allies are a key component of the AFM’s Listen Up! campaign. This grassroots effort seeks to end the rampant offshoring of film scoring jobs, and calls on studios like Lionsgate to be leaders and uphold established industry standards.

The problems of offshoring affect all of us—not only the musicians who do the work, but numerous AFM locals, the Federation, and our pension funds, not to mention our local communities and the labor movement throughout the world. So it’s no surprise to see that through the organizing efforts of Listen Up! musicians, all these groups are using social media to reach across borders and call on Lionsgate to meet with the AFM and discuss their practice of offshoring while accepting millions in generous tax credits.

This summer at the Banff World Media Festival (an important film and TV industry conference in Banff, Alberta), Lionsgate was slated to be feted as the “2014 Company of Distinction.” The musicians of Listen Up! engaged with Lionsgate in two ways: they crashed the party in-person at the conference as well as online on Twitter.

Musicians focused on the conference’s keynote, where Dan Rather interviewed Lionsgate executive Kevin Beggs. Listen Up! activists handed out flyers to conference-goers at the hotel, while simultaneously dozens joined the Twitter conversation using the official conference hashtag, #banff2014.

Musicians and our allies in other unions, worker centers, and community groups wrote hundreds of tweets, completely flipping the script and turning a Lionsgate PR moment into a megaphone for musicians. Example tweets include “Kevin Beggs, why won’t you meet w/musicians & talk about what it REALLY means to be a leader in the industry? #Banff2014” and “New model for Lionsgate:
#ListenUpNow to community, religious & political leaders & meet w/musicians #Banff2014”

In a similar vein, when Lionsgate’s dance movie Step Up All In premiered this July, dozens of musicians and allies used the movie’s hashtag to tell fans about Lionsgate’s lack of accountability for its offshoring of jobs. Again, the entire narrative of the opening was changed. (The illustration here shows the relative frequency of words used on Twitter about the premiere of Step Up All In.)

As before, the online effort was mixed with organizing on the ground. Labor activists in Hong Kong leafleted an advance screening of Step Up All In, in global solidarity with the musicians of the Listen Up! campaign. The impact of this event, while effective on its own, was amplified by the “retweeting” of their photos, by AFM rank-and-file musicians, locals, orchestra committees, other unions, worker centers, and community groups.

These “Twitter storms” are only one tactic out of a much larger toolbox. Each tool serves multiple purposes—it shows employers the breadth of our power, it educates the greater public about our campaigns, it builds our base of active supporters, and it throws cold water on normally positive media events for corporations like Lionsgate.

As other workers and organizations support AFM organizing efforts, a culture of solidarity is growing. Musicians are supporting each other’s campaigns, by coming out to rallies, but also spreading the word on social media. And with tweets coming from diverse quarters such as the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, We Occupy Music, IATSE Young Workers, and LA County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer María Elena Durazo, rank-and-file musicians have returned that support. AFM members are helping publicize the struggles of restaurant workers, stagehands, auto workers, writers, and more.

Musicians possess an advantage that not many other workers have—our strong connection with our audiences. There aren’t too many car owners that relate so readily to the workers that made their vehicle. Let’s utilize that emotional bond for the collective good; build our power and strengthen our communities.

AFM members, locals, and all supporters: email with your contact information to join our Social Media Team and help strengthen organizing throughout the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico!

Social Media Terms

Tweet: a short (140 characters or less) post on Twitter with text, photos, or video.

Retweet: to repost another user’s tweet, helping to more widely distribute the original tweet.

Hashtag: a word or phrase prefaced with a “#” sign, used on Twitter and Instagram to group different users’ posts together around a particular topic or event. For instance, users include the hashtag “#walmartstrikers” in their tweets to be part of a much larger conversation about the Walmart employee strikes that were launched Black Friday 2012.

Bitly: a free URL shortening service that is used to condense long URLs to make them easier to share on social networks such as Twitter.

Post: social media status or communication.

Meme: (rhymes with dream) an image, video, piece of text, etc. that is shared and spread by Internet users.

Like: a Facebook user can click the “Like” button as a quick way to show approval.

Share: a Facebook user can click the “Share” button to copy and post another page’s message in their own page. 

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