Social Media Goes Public

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Social media has proven its ability to build momentum around everything from social causes to natural disasters. Social technology has demonstrated its efficiency and speed in reporting current events faster than traditional news media, as with the case of CNN being beaten to the breaking news in Iran by Twitter (Kirpatrick, 2009). To this end, social media certainly does add a sense of instantaneous knowing and an opportunity to influence the course of an event, as we saw with the Iranian revolt over Twitter, using the hashtag IranElection# and #gr88.

But even though our access to information has changed and the way we interact with it continues to evolve to higher levels of interactivity and intimacy, does this mean we are better people for having it? Does media interactiveness necessarily lead to social development, increased empathy and advocacy? I believe it does.

In terms of advancing social causes, advocacy groups and non-profits now have highly targeted, extremely efficient and precisely defined opportunity to reach out with their message, build community and viral momentum as well as raise funds with far less effort than ever before. Where kind-hearted volunteers once had to stand on street corners with homemade signs or solicit signatures in front of grocery stories, that whole process has been replaced with a few clicks of a mouse and some compelling pictures and copy.

Take for example the efforts of the Humane Society who have been advocating policy change to increase punishment of animal abuse to the level of a felony. Using the Facebook Application “Causes”, a single supporter of the non-profit (not the organization itself), was able to obtain over 1.3 million signatures and raised just under $10,000 in donations to support the cause. Would that be possible in a traditional fundraising scenario of door-to-door canvasing? Possibly, but the time it would take to achieve the same level of results would be months to years rather than the two months that it’s currently been active, and would have required far more resources to execute. In this situation, a single individual was empowered to create momentum and awareness on behalf of the non-profit.

By virtue of social media’s unique ability to virally spread ideas through relevant audiences, it would seem that information is now being passed though the appropriate channels very efficiently. With a compelling story and a clear and manageable call to action, groups of like-minded individuals are motivated to sign petitions, call their congressional representatives and donate funds, all from the click of a button or in more recent situations, by texting a code into their cell phones. As suggested by Venture Capitalist Brad Feld, the true value of sites like Twitter “is the notion of the social Web and using your social network – people that you trust – for information discovery.” As we continue to organize ourselves virtually, based on our identity and values, messages and campaigns will become more streamlined and effective, and hopefully lead to greater levels of pro-social behavior.

It will be interesting to see what issues gain more and more momentum over the course of the next 5 to 10 years, and how that will affect cultural perspectives of what is considered “mainstream”. For example, if a movement like Food, Inc. – a documentary based campaign advocating conscious eating – can continue to penetrate cultural ideas about food, at what point will organic, local, pro-vegan diets become the norm?

Talbot, D. (2010). Can Twitter Make Money? MIT Review, March/April, p. 52-57

Rabil, S., (2010) CNN’s Klein Says He Fears Social Networks, Not TV (Update 2). Bloomberg, Business Week. Retrieved on Saturday, March 13, 2010: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-03-10/cnn-s-klein-says-he-fears-social-networking-competition-not-tv.html

Kirpatrick, M., (2009) Dear CNN, Please Check Twitter For All News About Iran. Read Write Web. Retrieved on March 13, 2010:
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/dear_cnn_please_check_twitter_for_news_about_iran.php

Causes on Facebook | Make Animal Abuse A Felony! (n.d.). . Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://apps.facebook.com/causes/397129/26219950?m=9e4cc0c7&ref=mf
How Social Media Creates Offline Social Good. (n.d.). . Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://mashable.com/2010/01/21/offline-social-good/
How the Humane Society Uses Social Media for Good #FindingTheGood. (n.d.). . Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://mashable.com/2009/06/23/humane-society/
Realist’s Guide to Social Media for Nonprofits. (n.d.). . Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.slideshare.net/suespaight/realists-guide-to-social-media-for-nonprofits

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