With ongoing political and religious divisions continuing to deepen, and still no agreement on a new President, 2014 was the year that Lebanon saw its unity crumble. With Independence Day around the corner, Beirut Celebrations, known for their nationalistic events and projects, needed to find a way to give the entire population a glimmer of hope in an hopeless situation.
Media outlets in Lebanon are considered political mouthpieces, so the only neutral place left, was online. We created a portal, where all Lebanese could express their unity. With a click of a button they could stand hand in hand to create the world's first virtual human chain using Google Earth, in a show of unity that represented the national wish to mend our divisions.
In a matter of days, United Hands had spread across social media - not just within Lebanon but also throughout the Lebanese community abroad. Over 7,800 people joined hands, including celebrities, politicians, and even the ex-Prime Minister. Then on November 30th, the online initiative inspired a real life human chain. Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens gathered to join hands in the name of unity, making headline news on all major local TV channels and newspapers, as well as regional and international news outlets, as one of the largest human chains in Middle East history, which in turn made it one of the most locally talked about events of the year.
The goal of the campaign was to reach as many Lebanese citizens as possible, within the national borders and out, and to make them realize that we can in fact stand in the face of adversity, to unite hand in hand in the name of Lebanon. With our target audience being potentially all the Lebanese, our goal was to find a platform that was free of religion and politics, in order to highlight nationalism versus political or religious opinion.
From the day of the launch, up to Independence Day, the site grew exponentially, with thousands joining the virtual human chain. In an unexpected turn of events, on November 30th, what started as an online initiative took on a life of its own, inspiring a real human chain to take place. Tens of thousands took to the streets to stand hand in hand in the name of Lebanon. Although no official count was made, the number was estimated to be between 80,000 and 200,000 people from along the entire Lebanon.
United Hands got covered on prime time news on every single Lebanese news channel, which is the most expensive media slot. The day after the event, the three major newspapers had featured them on their front pages. Online coverage went far beyond that, with local, regional, and international major blogs and news outlets covering the United Hands initiative.
The website was based on a simple mechanism: sign in through Facebook or Twitter and pin yourself on the human chain. Users could then choose to leave a message of hope on their pin and then share it on social media. The mechanism allowed for the site to be promoted organically through the users' newsfeeds, reaching thousands more, who in turn could join the human chain. The campaign went exactly to plan, as thousands caught on to the effectiveness of the campaign, excited to be a part of it.
In 2014, Lebanon was in a state of turmoil. Political and religious divisions had further fragmented the Lebanese society and a Presidential vacuum had left the country on edge. Watching the news, the Lebanese were bombarded with images of conflict, the threat of ISIS and the skirmishes that happened as a result. With Independence Day coming up, Beirut Celebrations needed a way to create a news-worthy event that could interrupt the negative imagery in the media, with a story that could finally portray the country in a positive light.
In order to build the right amount of momentum, while still maintaining a good amount of excitement before Independence Day, we decided that we would launch the website at least one month before. By giving the site a month of activity, we would allow time for people to be able to enjoy watching the growth of the chain, and by Independence Day, hopefully bring back a glimmer of excitement back to a day which, this year, had been overshadowed with turmoil.