Guest article by Erica Moss
The World Wide Web took root in the mid ‘90s, and for the next 10 years, the world scrambled to find more and more practical uses for this life-changing technology. Almost every aspect of our lives was touched by the Internet in one way or another.
In the mid 2000s, social media took root in this fertile new ground, and once again, innovators all over the globe found new applications for this novel method of communication. One day, far in the future, history may look back at this time in the world and say these were the years that social activism and social good completely and utterly changed.
There has never been an easier way to get the word out about a cause for social good. We are now at a point when a significant portion of the human race is connected via social media, with real-time access to each other. A sixth of the human species is connected via Facebook alone.
This is an astonishing opportunity to communicate and garner support for good causes, and some very savvy groups are taking advantage of this prime chance to gain a worldwide soapbox for the issues that they care about.
Here are a few important trends that are occurring in the use of social media for social good right now:
1. Breaking news of disasters and human crises
One thing that social networks like Twitter have brought us is a near-instantaneous blast of information when major events and disasters occur. The most notorious example is that of the “earthquake effect,” where news of an earthquake is discovered on Twitter before people can actually feel the shockwaves reaching them dozens or hundreds of miles away.
When major tragedies occur, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, social media becomes the most immediate way for people to reassure their loved ones that they are safe, and the most immediate way to share news of missing or injured persons, damaged buildings and unsafe situations. Twitter and Facebook were actually used by rescue personnel and aid organizations to quickly pinpoint where the most urgent help was needed.
CNN’s iReport page allowed 218 civilians to report live from the quake zone, which generated an additional 212 missing persons reports from the best information that officials had access to. Those who were watching from afar were able to follow along in near real-time as the quake clean-up and relief efforts were happening. Being more connected and getting an intimate and up-close look at all of the devastation had a more positive impact on charitable donations, and charities were able to quickly rally for more donations because of social media.
2. A larger platform to bring more attention
It could be argued that Charity:Water wouldn’t have become successful at delivering clean drinking water to those in need if it weren’t for the power of social media. Through technology, they are able to quickly raise money and show donors first-hand what exactly their donation accomplished.
Through social media updates, Charity:Water donors can literally see the wells they’ve helped build and the people they’ve helped empower with access to clean and safe drinking water. Anybody who has donated to Charity:Water would probably tell you that the social media immediacy has encouraged them to give, and the reports and tangible proof of their help encourages them to remain involved and makes them more likely to donate again.
When someone sees the impact their donation has, they are usually pretty eager to share that with their social networks (“Look at the well I helped build!”), which engages even more people to get involved. Charity:Water, using the power of social media, has helped 2,545,000 people get access to safe drinking water so far.
3. Donation drives
The amplification effect of social media cannot be overstated. The old days of fundraising were limited by how many people you could call on the phone, how many people saw your roadside sign and how many doors you could knock on. That is no longer the case.
Now, a well-crafted tweet can take off through the power of retweeting, and potentially be seen by millions of people. If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve most assuredly seen the effects of powerful fundraising in one way or another.
Organized giving events like Desert Bus for Hope, Operation: Social Santa (formerly Tweet Drive) and Twestival are all attended by vast numbers of people online, who follow along with a livestream of the event and get involved as much as they can (often by plunking down their credit card number and donating). Organizations that rely on donation drives are experiencing a renaissance in charitable giving right now, thanks to the power of social media.
Social advocacy and social good are powerful forces for bringing more equality to the world and sharing the privilege that wealth and connectivity bring to some — and social media is the platform that has really helped these movements take off. It will be interesting to see what’s next, but for now, it has never been easier to get involved in helping your fellow human beings.
Erica Moss is the community manager for Georgetown University’s online masters of Nursing programs, offering one of the nation’s leading online fnp programs. She enjoys blogging, TV, pop culture and tweeting@ericajmoss.