The New Activist: 2020 Global Communications Report

Conducted by The USC Annenberg Center For Public Relations in Conjunction with The Worldcom Public Relations Group

Activists are playing an increasingly powerful role in people’s work, society and lives, which is why The USC Annenberg Center For Public Relations in Conjunction with The Worldcom Public Relations Group chose it as this year’s theme for the Global Communications Report. The survey included more than 1,000 PR leaders and students around the world as well as almost 300 citizens actively engaged in public action and politics to understand how prepared the communications industry is to react to or work with various activist groups in the future.

The report reveals the identity of “the new activist” who is far more influential than activists have ever been as they are more informed, tech-savvy, passionate and more extreme. These new activists are driven by distrust in political institutions and have the potential to be more influential than CEOs and journalists in the future.

Below are five key takeaways for organisations from research.

Young females are the dominant demographic for the modern day activist

Today’s activists are everyday people, not charismatic personalities. They are more informed and tech-savvy. They are passionate and more extreme. They are more antagonistic but empathetic. They are the youngest among us and they are primarily women.

A global decline in trust in governments is driving modern activism

A lack of trust in governments and a perceived lack of government action are dominant factors driving the growth of activism. Distrust in government bodies ranks much higher than other issues including bad corporate behaviour or loss of media credibility.

Social media is the most effective tool for today’s activists

Social media is by far the most effective tool for today’s activists because the internet has shifted the power to the individual. Social media allows individuals to unite likeminded people across the world and while social media is by far the most effective tool, traditional media is not out of the question for today’s activists, with traditional tools including advertising, books, and film still having an impact.

Companies are aligning themselves with activists for social and financial gain

The report identifies 64% of companies who proactively engage with activists reveal they benefit by doing so. We will continue to see organisations working with, and aligning themselves with activists they believe align with their brand and values into the future.

Ballot box is more effective than protesting alone

Voting is considered to be a very effective way to create long-term change. Few modern activists believe protesting in public alone is effective long-term, and electoral voting is considered to be critical to achieving the most significant and long-lasting change.

As we continue to see an increase across the world of “the new activist”, it will be critical for public relations and communications professionals to understand these key findings in order to respond to or work with activists in the future.