On February 12th, Haydee Izaguirre woke up to images of her home country of Venezuela in turmoil. Students, fed up with the country’s record number of homicides, crippling inflation, food shortages, and rampant corruption had taken to the streets in protest. The Venezuelan Government’s response was swift jailing opposition leaders, censoring media coverage, and beating protesters drawing rebukes from the international community. 2,600 miles away Haydee, a US resident and human rights specialist, turned to Facebook and Twitter for updates as government censors tightened their grip. As information became ever more scarce she knew other Venezuelans living abroad were facing similar hurdles. Two days later, fed up with the lack of real news, Haydee took action by starting a Facebook group and webpage dedicated to collecting and sharing updates on what was happening on the ground.
Not knowing what to expect, Haydee went to bed that night with two Facebook followers. The next morning she was surprised to see that number had jumped to 718 followers. Later that evening the number had grown to 10,000. For the remainder of that weekend SOS Venezuela’s Facebook group grew exponentially adding one follower nearly every second. By the weekend’s end Haydee and her sister Cassandra found themselves administering a group of over 73,000 followers. In the three weeks since these numbers have continued to grow to over 190,000 followers from 56 countries. In that time Haydee and her group of 7 volunteers have published thousands of pieces of content generating over 72 million impressions and 1.8 million interactions (likes, comments) with users from 100 countries.
As SOS Venezuela has grown it’s mission has shifted from being a platform for information sharing to activism. Today, SOS Venezuela’s primary function is to generate worldwide awareness about the student movement’s goals and grievances. As SOS has grown it has become a safe place for Venezuelans and the global community to voice their opinions through the sharing of photos, videos, media and op-ed pieces.
Asked to join the team early on as SOS Venezuela’s Data Lead I’ve had the opportunity to watch our viral growth through the lens of social media metrics. Three weeks in, there are many interesting lessons about SOS Venezuela’s success that can be gleaned from these numbers, but the most significant are the following:
Seeing the Demand – While we would like to attribute SOS Venezuela’s initial viral growth to our social media savvy the truth is more simple. Our success can first and foremost be attributed to Haydee’s ability to see where there was a strong demand for greater coordination and her willingness to fill that void. After starting the group Haydee put an emphasis on sharing relevant content giving SOS Venezuela legitimacy with key stakeholders in Venezuela and their supporters abroad. While SOS Venezuela has been made possible by the contributions and commitment of our team, truth is, nearly anyone with the foresight and willingness to act could have found themselves in our position.
Beyond “Like-tivism” – These metrics also show that SOS Venezuela’s success has been driven by promoting opportunities for action. Over the last three weeks SOS Venezuela has publicized over 355 rallies in 254 cities around the world that have drawn thousands, if not tens of thousands, of supporters. In addition, SOS Venezuela has set up processes through which followers can contact elected representatives in 17 countries to express their support for the protests. Finally, SOS Venezuela has requested and received hundreds of photos of support from individuals around the world (some pictured above) making it a source of moral support for protesters in the streets.
Content & Coordination – Finally, SOS Venezuela’s success has been driven by its content and team. As SOS Venezuela grew Haydee reached out to friends and volunteers to whom she delegated key tasks allowing SOS Venezuela to grow more quickly. Today our team has grown to be comprised of 7 volunteers, each managing one aspect of SOS Venezuela’s operations. Through the use of open source tools (Google Docs, Google Fusion Tables, Google Translate, etc) we’ve been able to remotely collaborate to collect, organize, and publish thousands of pieces of content gleaned from the media and SOS Venezuela’s followers. Without the support of these volunteers and platforms we would not be able to continuously engage our followers with new information and opportunities for action.
As the protesters march on we continue to look for new ways to meaningfully engage with our users to raise awareness and promote action for a safe, prosperous, and just Venezuela.
If you would like to learn more about SOS Venezuela, you can connect with them via:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/sosVenezuela2014
Twitter – https://twitter.com/sosvenezuelain
Instagram – http://instagram.com/sosvenezuelainfo