Imagine you want to get a bunch of people—like thousands or tens of thousands or even millions—to do something. Just one thing.
You could try to contact each one and have them do it.
You could ask each of them to not only do that thing, but also ask the people in their networks to do so as well.
OR you could organize a focused, single day of action for your cause.
Carving out one day to make a big difference
The phenomenon of “one-day” awareness-raising events likely was galvanized with the first Earth Day in 1970. Some 20 million Americans took part in demonstrations and activities in support of environmental protection, and today Earth Day events take place in more than 190 countries.
Such annual one-day events have proven effective in raising awareness for a range of causes: HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, gender equality/equity, hunger, gun safety, and the list goes on. Why do they work? Why do they matter? And how—even in our pandemic time—can they build more momentum, attract more supporters, and advance your goals?
Stratiscope has been part of the development and execution of two major California one-day events: the Great ShakeOut and California Clean Air Day. Both have the goal of making unseen risks more visceral and real, while doing it in a fun, engaging way that attracts millions of participants.
One-day events laser-focus the attention of participants and sponsors on the cause at hand.
In social psychology, construal level theory states that the more visceral—real—a concept or event is, the more concretely people think about it. To most people, environmental protection is a good thing conceptually. Participating in an event such as Earth Day places them in a position to pay greater attention to the issues, learn about potential solutions, and take action.
Speakers, activities, literature, conversations—they ALL center on the stated purpose of the day. Participants make new connections, and networks are established and grown. For the duration of the event, the day-of topic takes center stage and can be as real as it can be.
Especially when focusing on an abstract risk like a potential earthquake or the invisible pollutants in the air, a one-day event heightens awareness and cuts through the preconceived notions of the risk by changing, redirecting, and focusing the public discourse on the topic.
One-day events create a critical mass of support.
People who show up for a “day of action” don’t have to be the die-hards of the cause. Days of action are very often an entry point for folks to join. When they do, they’re quickly bolstered and energized by so many others—novices and experts alike, all together for a specific purpose.
Newcomers might start with what is perceived as “checking the box” with a bumper sticker, a pledge to plant a tree or conserve water, or an online donation. But that one action can become a lifelong commitment to the cause if participants are properly nurtured, rewarded, supported, and engaged. Both ShakeOut and CA Clean Air Day have a very low barrier to participation: pledge to do something—anything—that you can do on the topic, with options presented to you as a minimum first step.
Even the most simple actions show a commitment of time, energy, and voices in contrast to no action. When assembled in a focused, one-day event those many individual voices get multiplied, amplified, and most importantly, noticed.
That critical mass attracts media attention.
When the expected experts and zealots do what they’ve always done, it merely reinforces their existing roles. When many more unexpected actors begin to participate—together, on the same day no less—those already watching take a closer look.
The law of attraction kicks in. More people take part in the next one, which garners more coverage, which in turn draws more people to take action. Focusing it all on one day attracts focused attention that otherwise would be diluted over time.
Local and national news coverage of the Great ShakeOut boosted participation in the event’s first year (2008) and subsequent years. In fact, it’s become one of the days in California that the media plan to do some earthquake coverage on their own without the ShakeOut organizers pitching it.
One-day event participants identify more strongly with the cause.
Here, we see psychology’s social identity theory at work: People desire a positive social identity and showing up for a cause supports that. (Think about when your team wins the World Series—everyone’s a fan and the fandom takes credit for helping win the championship.)
They’re proud to say, “I was there.” and “I was part of that.” They’re more likely to show up for the next one, provide support in the interim time, evangelize the value of the experience, and bring others along. “I AM part of that.” They’re proud to belong to something bigger than themselves.
People see what others are doing and want to be a part of it.
“I can do that!” A day of action can jolt someone out of their inertia by providing an accessible, high-energy, low-commitment way for them to “dip their toes” meaningfully into a cause that interests them. The effect is multiplied when friend groups plan to participate or even more so when employee teams form to represent their companies.
With Clean Air Day, we build in easy ways for businesses to engage their employees. We developed toolkits to help executives support their company. Tracking was developed to allow them to see how many employees were participating. And using research-informed community leadership best practices, companies were empowered to activate their employee base in a fun yet meaningful way.
A one-day event focuses energy on a single point in time, which becomes a launching pad for longer-term actions and behavior change.
This works in a couple ways, as mentioned above. Again, it’s “just one day,” so the perceived commitment level—especially among newcomers—is low.
And on the day of the event, with an attentive and unified audience the conversations turn from “It’s great to see you all, thanks for coming,” to educating, planning, networking, community building, and committing to future action and behavior change over the long term.
The follow-up with participants is key, which digital and other communication, surveys, resources, and recognition used as ways to deepen their engagement throughout the year, leading to the goal of their active, sustained (and sustaining) engagement with your issue.
Clean Air Day, for example, contacts participants who focused on tree planting and alerts them of other, similar opportunities through the year to both stay top of mind and to deepen the relationship from outreach to deeper, true engagement.
So what happens after the one-day event?
That is the million-dollar question for event organizers and planners…. And I’ll address it in my next blog post. Subscribe to our email list so you don’t miss it!
CTA — As we work with leaders and communities across the US, creating and leading one-day engagement events is a tool that can address millions of people or just the hundreds or thousands related to a local region or issue. With focus as the basis of achievement, these one day events provide the necessary experience to launch true engagement for a lifetime. We’ve done it before, and we look forward to doing it again.