Broad-based movements have been key to instigating social reforms from the labor movement to gender equality and civil rights. While the mechanisms may have moved on from the stump to social media, there are always five elements that characterize a social movement. Building and maintaining the momentum for social change is more than just creating a tag or a meme. For you social movement to achieve true change, you need to ensure it embodies some essential characteristics.

  • Common cause

The key element of a social movement is a common cause or motivator. All social movements need to have a clear goal – from universal suffrage to workers’ rights, to the abolition of slavery. 

"The 5 Elements Required for a Successful Movement"

The stated belief or issue unites previously unconnected individuals into a team committed to a common cause. 

  • Recruitment

A movement is born when those who are committed to the common cause move outside their circles to recruit friends, family, colleagues, and others to that cause. 

For example, in the civil rights movement, people were galvanized by a fundamental belief that all people are equal regardless of color. A social movement that started in its core constituency of southern black people grew to include a majority of the American population and spoke to the broad equality principles of the nation’s foundation. 

  • Commitment

Achieving social change is not easy. It requires a long-term commitment to building an argument, persuading and influencing and working for incremental change. Solid commitment builds on a deep connection to the cause, and one driven by personal experience. 

"The 5 Elements Required for a Successful Movement"Allies can assist and are crucial to building influence and widespread support. But the core of the social movement must reflect the experience of those whose lives will be affected by the change. 

  • Connection 

Any movement must be able to bring together diverse groups and interests to fight for the common cause if it to build the momentum for change. Shared ownership of key arguments makes a powerful impact on decision making and can’t be about niche interests.

One of the strengths of the Vietnam Moratorium protests was the coming together or large sections of the population to protest the war. 

  • Fight 

A strong social movement will fight its corner most powerfully with arguments that have a broad-based appeal. For the movement to succeed it must have a long-term plan to persuade key influencers and power brokers and will take an incremental approach. It took women more than half a century to win the right to vote, and more than a century passed before emancipation grew into full-blown civil rights.


Support your cause on social media

"The 5 Elements Required for a Successful Movement"Supporting your cause on social media might seem like a no-brainer but don’t underestimate the power of the internet to achieve change. 

Think of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns and the power of images that ‘go viral’ and get picked up by mainstream media. 

Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are the most popular social media sites for sharing information about events, demonstrations, and rallies. They are also opportunities to share your own experiences and knowledge. 

"The 5 Elements Required for a Successful Movement"Social media has a reputation for being one big shouting match, but you may be surprised to find that there are plenty of opportunities for discussion and thoughtful debate about serious issues. Tumblr is especially good for providing a safe space to talk through issues. 

Social media can also be an opportunity to practice activism by posting articles and videos or sharing news of events and information about your cause. 


If you want to get inspired about starting a movement, then this book is a must read. It takes a look at how nonviolent movements are shaping the entire world.

This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century

Every powerful movement needs a great leader. This book will help boost your leadership skills so you can motivate and inspire.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action


Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything