Originally published on Mashable written by
Social media has had a profound effect on the way social good organizations approach global problems. From the Red Cross, which used text messages to raise $5 million in relief funds for Haiti, to organizations like micro-lender Kiva, which wouldn’t even exist without the concept of social networking, altruistic organizations and individuals are finding new ways to embrace social media.
In preparation for our Social Good Summit next week, we asked social good experts about trends that will shape the way we use social media for positive change in the future. Here’s what they had to say.
In preparation for the United Nation’s climate change conference last December, an organization called 350.org (350 refers to the safe upper limit for parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere) decided to organize a demonstration. But instead of printing up picket signs and posting flyers on telephone polls, they posted a simple call to action on their website and spread the word through social media. They asked people all over the world to create their own events on October 24 that centered around the number 350.
350.org’s social network responded by organizing more than 5,200 demonstrations and rallies in more than 180 countries. Climbers planned to post 350 banners on Mt. Everest. Activists around the shore of the Dead Sea collaborated to post a giant “3″ in Israel, a “5″ in Palestine, and a “0″ in Jordan.
More and more organizations are striving to create movements through a similar crowdsourcing model.
“Crowdsourcing is literally and simply empowering your community to do specific tasks without the organization, but on behalf of the organization, through active management,” says Geoff Livingston, the co-founder of social media communications agency Zoetica, which works primarily with non-profits.
Livingston, who regularly contributes articles about social good for Mashable (), embarked on his own crowdsourcing effort after the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion. He and Zoetica teamed up with other organizations like Citizen Effect and Live Your Talk to organize a national day of action on August 25th. They named the project CitizenGulf, after a Twitter () hashtag.
Twenty cities participated by hosting events, and the cumulative $10 entry fees amounted to almost $11,000 that was used to send eight children of fishermen affected by the oil spill to an after-school program for a year.
“What was really special about that is that these 20 cities got together, they met face to face, they did their own event, they created it, and they were free to crowdsource and innovate,” Livingston says. “And I think when people are empowered to become a part of something — not told what to do, but literally, make it their own, make it part of their life, make it feel like their $10 and two hours of time means something — wow, that’s powerful.”
Beth Kanter, the co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and the CEO of Zoetica, says the Humane Society’s 2007 campaign to protest Wendy’s “frosty treatment of animals” by making and submitting your own sign is the first example she remembers of seeing these personal calls to action. Other successful implementations of crowdsourcing since then include LIVESTRONG’S grassroots fundraising events and awareness day, which is similar to the 350.org concept.
But according to Livingston, non-profits have a long way to go before they can leverage the full potential of crowdsourcing. “I think crowdsourcing is a hot buzz word in the non-profit space, but people just don’t get it. Nobody’s really figured it out yet,” Livingston says. “I don’t really see any universal theory that is working for me.”
2. Location, Mobile Apps and Other Experiments
Non-profits have started to experiment with location-based games like Foursquare () and other mobile apps, but they’re behind their commercial counterparts.
“I think to really leverage those networks, you need to employ a developer. You really need to get into the API and pull out the data and leverage it successfully,” Livingston says. “And I don’t think non-profits are technically savvy enough to think like that or deploy resources for it … The barrier to entry is so specific that they run away from it.”
There are, however, promising examples that early adapters have implemented. The Brooklyn Museum, for instance, gives perks like free entry to its mayor. The museum also posts Foursquare tips and photos of its past mayors on a community page.
“[The Brooklyn Museum] is a great example because it’s not just the marketing and communications department using social media, it’s literally almost everybody in the organization,” Kanter says. “When they were testing Foresquare, they did things like have the staff go out with their smartphones and check in to different places in the neighborhood and suggest … a great place to go to lunch before going to the Brooklyn museum.”
While the Brooklyn Museum is making Foursquare work for them, they have the advantage of being a geographic organization. For most non-profits, says co-author of Social by Social Amy Sample Ward, experimenting with location-based apps isn’t yet a feasible way to activate change.
“If no actual people in your region are using Foresquare, it doesn’t really matter that you did it,” she says. “You won’t get bonus points for being first because you’re still not getting any action. You’re not engaging people, you’re not furthering your mission. Unless being an early adopter is part of your organization’s mission, it’s not necessarily right.”
Ward has a similar outlook for non-profit apps. “It’s one thing, in my mind, if you are a museum and you create an app that brings in people because they don’t have to buy an audio guide and they feel like they can walk around and own the museum in their own way,” she says. “For an organization that doesn’t have a physical place of interest that you would come to repeatedly, having an app that just sits there, you don’t see a lot of action from those.” She says the way app donations are set up also make them ineffective fund raising tools.
On the other hand, Ward has noticed that social good organizations that have experimented with video to create a call to action are often successful.
“I think there’s a lot going on with video in a way that wasn’t happening before. Recognizing the power of video not just as a storytelling aide — videos are so much more compelling and interesting than blog posts — but now people are realizing that videos are a place where you can sync the action that you want people to take with that compelling story that was just told.”
This was recently the case for a video widget that promoted The Cove, a documentary about dolphin capture in Japan. Call2Action, the company that made the widget, says that an average 59% of people who viewed the widget interacted with it. “Interaction” includes any click on the video, including options to share, sign a petition, or learn more. Considering interaction rates for advertisements for video are about 2% to 6%, Ward sees videos with call to action as a promising trend for social good organizations.
3. Mobilizing Actions
There was a time when social good organizations used social media to engage and inform communities about their goals. More and more organizations are now also using social media as a platform from which to accomplish those goals or to mobilize people to work toward those goals.
For-profit social network The Extraordinaries, for instance, connects “micro-volunteers” with social good projects that can usually be accomplished in about ten minutes. For instance, one example project is “Can you critique these logo designs?” Volunteers find a “challenge” that matches their skills and post their answers to the website or through the iPhone app.
Other organizations have found social media’s ability to mobilize actions particularly useful during times of disaster, and it’s likely that they will only find it more so in the future.
The best known example of this is when the Red Cross mobilized its social network to respond to the earthquake in Haiti by donating $10 through a text message. The organization successfully raised $5 million in relief funds.
CrisisCommons also mobilized volunteers after the earthquatke, but it brought them together in person at “CrisisCamps” around the country to develop technological solutions. CrisisCamps in Washington, Los Angeles, California and other cities contributed a digital map and other mobile apps to help relief groups in Haiti coordinate their efforts.
Because GlobalGiving, an organization that links grassroots projects with donors, already had an established network of grassroots organizations around the world, it was easy for them to work with Haitian organizations to provide relief. “Social media was crucial to spreading news about the disasters, as well as learning news,” wrote GlobalGiving Online Marketing Manager Alison McQuade in an e-mail. “We were able to send updates as they were happening and provide giving opportunities immediately.”
Ward says social media has replaced physically knocking on people’s doors to ask for help with a method that can be just as personal but is also quicker and has a further reach. “Whether it’s actual political campaigning, or if it’s ‘we’re going to go fix the park,’ they can use these online tools to figure out who’s going to be there and who has plants and who has a shovel,” she says.
4. Benefiting From Cause Marketing
Target did it. Pepsi did it. Chase did it. Companies are discovering that setting up contests to reward social good organizations based on how many “votes” they can rally from their social networks is an excellent way to advertise.
For non-profits, it’s also become an excellent way to raise funds.
“There’s actually gotten to be so many of them that non-profits need to think about whether or not they should answer the contest,” says Kanter, who in 2007 was the first person to use Twitter to solicit donations. “It’s sort of a new category of fund raising that they need to consider.”
Unfortunately this funding source doesn’t come without risk.
“[Organizations] have to think about whether or not the sponsor of the contest is aligned with your goals, says Kanter. “They need to think about whether or not they have really built up their network and have a capacity to participate.”
She cites the cautionary tale of The American Cancer Society and KFC, which aligned to fight breast cancer one giant pink bucket of friend chicken at a time, only to generate backlash from those who pointed out that fatty foods may increase the risk of breast cancer.
5. Cooperation Between Non-profits and Individuals
At a non-profits and technology conference Kanter attended in April, 29-year-old Shawn Ahmed, who withdrew from grad school to found the Uncultured Project (accumulating a huge YouTube () and Twitter following in the process), jumped on stage and pointed to the representative from the Red Cross. According to a blog post for The Chronicle of Philanthropy that Kanter wrote about the incident, he said:
“The problem isn’t social media, the problem is that you are the fortress. Social media is not my problem: I have over a quarter million followers on Twitter, 10,800 subscribers on YouTube, and 2.1 million views. Yet despite that, I have a hard time having you guys take me seriously. I get dismissed as ‘just a guy on YouTube.’”
Ahmed is what Kanter calls a “a free agent” — an individual who isn’t part of a staff or a traditional volunteer, but who is aligned with a cause and has a social media following. In this case, Ahmed was frustrated because he wanted to mobilize his social network to help the Red Cross’s Haiti relief efforts, but felt shut out.
“Some of these non-profits just don’t let people in,” Kanter says. “They can’t control them. They can’t slap their logos on them and brand them.”
The Red Cross, which is one of Kanter’s clients, was able to follow up with Ahmed to discuss ways he and other free agents could participate. Kanter says that she sees more organizations willing to work with and embrace their “free agents.”
“I look at free agents as influencers,” Livingston says. “Really big influencers that can create a splash. And I think understanding who the influencers are in your market and your segment is just common sense. You absolutely, positively want to have your influencers in your camp.”
Whether they call them “free agents” or “influencers,” working toward inclusion is a trend that social good organizations are starting to take more seriously.
“Social change issues have become so much more complex that they’ve outstripped the capacity of any single organization to solve those problems,” Kanter says. “And that’s why it’s really important that non-profits stop looking at themselves as a single institution and more like networks.”
This post was brought to you by the groundbreaking Social Good Summit. On September 20, as global leaders head to New York for United Nations Week — including a historic summit on global issues known as the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) and the annual General Assembly — Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation will bring together leaders from the digital industry, policy and media worlds to focus on how technology and social networks can play a leading role in addressing the world’s most intractable problems.
Date: Monday, September 20, 2010
Time: 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET
Location: 92nd Street Y, New York City
Tickets: On sale through Eventbrite