How can we connect Israel and the next generation in the digital era? - opinion

The Ethical Tribing strategy to connect Israel and the next generation is rooted in marketing and the use of social media.

 THE ANNUAL Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, internationally acclaimed as one of the most proud and gay-friendly cities in the world. (photo credit: FLASH90)
THE ANNUAL Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, internationally acclaimed as one of the most proud and gay-friendly cities in the world.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Opinions about Israel are being formed on social media at breakneck speeds. Joanna Landau and Michael Golden, the authors of Ethical Tribing: Connecting the Next Generation to Israel in the Digital Era, map out the road to a new advocacy route that can shift more positive impressions of Israel and help right the ship of its struggling image in the world.

Landau, the founder of Vibe Israel, an organization that brings social media influencers to Israel to experience and share the story of Israel with their online followers, advocates using social media influence to build support and simultaneously drown out the anti-Israel hate – the crux of the Ethical Tribing strategy.

That strategy doesn’t concern itself with politics or policy per se. Rather, it strives to highlight all the positive aspects of Israel, the vast majority of which lie outside of the conflict. At its core, the Ethical Tribing strategy lies within the domain of marketing.

Traditional advocacy, or “capital ‘A’ advocacy,” (the sort of Israel advocacy that deals with directly addressing anti-Israel misinformation, propaganda, antisemites, and so on), should and must remain strong. Landau affirms, “Traditional Advocacy is not a ‘nice to have’ issue. There is a serious existential threat to Israel and we’re not saying to traditional advocates ‘don’t do what you do’ or ‘change the way you do what you do.’”

Rather, the Ethical Tribing strategy is itself an acknowledgment that the entire proportion of efforts that have been directed into traditional advocacy has come at the expense of other forms of advocacy and Israel engagement that are demonstrably effective and required. Landau and Golden’s book lays out an eye-opening overview, relying heavily on research and data, on how stunningly effective marketing the Israel brand has the potential to be.

 JOANNA LANDAU, the founder and the CEO of Vibe Israel.  (credit: RONI PERL)
JOANNA LANDAU, the founder and the CEO of Vibe Israel. (credit: RONI PERL)

While some online traditional advocacy content has done well, the reality is, as a whole, it simply doesn’t interest the next generation. And it’s not because they’ve already been poisoned against Israel. Polling data from sources, such as Pew and Gallup, clearly show that the greatest share of Next Geners don’t think much about Israel or Palestinians and have yet to form an opinion on the subjects. Therein lies the opportunity. In order to reach this giant demographic and create an Israel-friendly Next Gen, the answer is not just advocating for Israel, but investing in marketing Israel.

An analogy Ethical Tribing uses asks readers to imagine a supermarket of nations, wherein the world is likened to a supermarket with every nation represented as goods on shelves. Shoppers go up and down the aisles and select countries from the shelves. Israel is there, too. So, how do you get people to choose Israel? Which products should Israel choose to display on its shelves? How should those products be presented? How can you draw attention to those products?

How does the Ethical Tribing strategy work?

Ethical Tribing addresses how social media marketing can be used to address these questions using six broad synergistically working categories that find their basis across a spectrum of disciplines, from behavioral science to storytelling.

Each tactic has a key role to play in successfully marketing Israel. Take, for example, “Radical Empathy,” the first tactic discussed in the book.

“The reason why I wanted radical empathy to be the first tactic is because if you don’t do that... you’re going to miss the mark.” Landau says. “The older generation is trying to force the younger generation to see the world through their eyes, implement the same values, use the same channels and act in the same way.” This is a losing war. In essence, it’s not enough to put content online. It needs to be the sort of content that interests the Next Geners. Otherwise, social media algorithms will not pick it up and it will never be seen.

There are numerous ways to take advantage of the algorithm. Partnering with influencers, paying for a platform to show sponsored content, posting content that appeals to peoples’ interests (content that features things, such as Israel’s vegan food, hiking, music, urban life, etc.), or simply producing Israel content that engages in trends that already have gained popularity are a few such methods.

This sort of advocacy may not involve itself in the heavier, conflict-related conversations, but it ultimately does work that’s just as important. It attracts views and generates positive engagement. It shows the world that Israel is here, it’s not scary and it’s not as it’s often portrayed in the media. It shows that Israel is a world leader and offers all kinds of things that interest the viewer, whether it be food, nature, culture, parties, egalitarianism or anything else. It shows that the Israeli people are warm, approachable, open and readily engageable.

How effective is investing in marketing in Israel?

“Israel is like a company that has a well-oiled crisis management department with a huge, budget. Meanwhile, the marketing department has, like, $100 (NIS 374) in the budget,” Landau says. “And that’s untenable. You won’t be able to sell your product if people don’t know it exists.” However, a little more in the marketing department budget can go a long way.

There’s abundant and, as Israel marketing efforts ramp up, growing amounts of data to support this.

Landau’s organization, Vibe Israel, has brought many influencers to Israel to experience and share the country with their online followers and has conducted numerous online campaigns to otherwise draw attention to Israel. Social listening software allows Vibe Israel to assess the breadth of the impact that these efforts have on social media. They can, for example, see how many people view and react to content, read the mood of the reactions to the content and see how effective it is at opening the eyes of people who hadn’t given much previous thought to Israel.

Ethical Tribing gives one example of a targeted ad campaign they conducted that, in return for a cost of approximately $24,500 (NIS 91,600), netted a potential reach of hundreds of millions of online views and garnered an astonishingly high proportion of user engagement.

Engagement translates to positive shifts in perceptions of Israel. A case study described in Ethical Tribing points to a study Vibe Israel commissioned, which involved 900 people from across three US cities who were polled on their perception of Israel before and after a several-week targeted online Israel-brand campaign.

The campaign cost roughly $30,000 (NIS 112,154) and yielded dramatic results. The 32% of people who had a “favorable” perception of Israel at the outset climbed to 36% by the end. Similarly, the 18% of people who had a “very favorable” perception of Israel leapt to 40%. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who had an “unfavorable” perception of Israel dropped from 6% to 3% and those who had a “very unfavorable” perception of Israel dropped from 2.5% to 1%.

Time is of the essence

While social media provides rich opportunities for bolstering Israel’s image, it remains a landscape fraught with challenges. The anti-Israel crowd is and has been working to generate a negative narrative regarding Israel; spreading memes, videos and slogans against the tiny Jewish state.

Movements, such as BDS, while failing to destroy Israel physically or economically, have had victories in the public relations war. Meanwhile, as all of this is happening at incredible speeds online, the issue of Jewish youth feeling less connected to Israel than previous generations have, has been exacerbated.

“I think that a lot of the older Jewish community, the donor community, the professionals and so on, are almost a little bit hurt by the Next Generation. After having invested so much in programs, such as Taglit-Birthright Israel, Jewish education and Jewish camp and giving the Next Geners all these amazing opportunities... they wake up one morning and it’s like, ‘#NotMyJudaism,’” comments Landau.

A Pew survey from 2022, for example, showed that while the majority of Americans view Israel favorably, the gap between generations is significant. In fact, the survey showed that among 18-29-year-olds, more had an unfavorable than favorable view of Israel. And, although the same study highlighted a positive relationship between the level of education and favor towards Israel, to reverse the growing trend of anti-Israel youth, significant action is required.

Additionally, being connected to Israel is no longer a given even for Jewish youth. While a 2021 Pew study found that over seven in 10 American Jews in the 18-29-year-old age bracket still view Israel is an important or essential part of being Jewish and without immediate action, this proportion is almost certain to fall.

It’s no secret that it’s often hard to be openly Jewish in many professional, social and in particular, academic settings. What often gets overlooked, however, is how it can also be difficult to be Jewish online. It isn’t uncommon for a Jewish person’s comment to be spammed with replies of “free Palestine,” the Palestinian flag, or something about Israel being an apartheid state if their username looks even remotely Jewish. This seems to occur regardless of both the subject matter of the original post and the nature of the comment itself. If the post itself has anything to do with Judaism, similar comments are frequently almost a given.

Fortunately, while this trend has only grown worse, as we’ve seen from responses to organized social media efforts, it’s quite reversible. There is a wide open blue ocean of marketing opportunities and, as Landau and Golden’s book demonstrates, a great majority of the Next Geners are open to seeing the real Israel.

As an added bonus, as their peers become more connected with Israel, Jewish youth will find it easier and easier to take pride in their heritage, people and homeland.

Ethical Tribing stresses, however, that it is of paramount urgency that Israel and the Jewish community act quickly. Landau and Golden offer ways that everyone, whether they are a philanthropist, an organization or an individual, can contribute to this effort. Furthermore, the Ethical Tribing strategy has already been endorsed by notable figures, such as Presidents Isaac Herzog and Reuven Rivlin.