One of the great things about social media that you don’t get at the water cooler, a political rally or in the boardroom is the ability to think out loud, and listen to (mostly) unedited ideas. It makes collective decision-making incredibly efficient. And it has the power to ignite social movements that engage and spread in ways that make a real difference.
A few weeks ago, I was part of something that was simple and somewhat therapeutic. I just happened to be surfing tweets in my regular stream and came across a #tweetdiner chat that had been underway for about 20 minutes. I had been feeling a bit unhinged after the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. The group was discussing the lack of sustained donations for the disaster.
We all noted that support and interest was dropping off a lot faster than it had for similar, recent natural disasters. In real life, that’s where it would probably end, as we drifted back to our offices to fulfill our obligations. But this group — within an hour, mind you — conceived and agreed on a social media plan to increase donor interest. I submitted the name #care4japan, and the group chose to work with that.
As we gear up for a week of tweets, I see that 90 people are following us on Facebook — that’s 90 people who may have the power to not only provide a donation, but to tell their sphere of influence why it’s important to give if they can.
I’ve worked for social justice organizations my whole life. But in the face of the disaster I saw unfolding across the Pacific, it was more than a little difficult to make sense of organizational goals or personal priorities. Tweetdiner helped me focus that nervous energy, vocalize my concern and participate in a project with the potential to make a difference.
Malcolm Gladwell insists that the political will and ideology must be in place for social activism to take place. He says it’s not about the tools at all. I tend to agree with him that we need a collective cause — humanitarian, social justice, political — to get the ball rolling. But I’m not sure he completely appreciates the untapped power of social media. He says we are willing to act — to expose ourselves to risk — based on how close we feel to a given situation. True-ish. But each social media tool leverages different spheres of influence — and some have the power to create new spheres of influence. Higher adoption rates mean that word-of-mouth and collective action has spread beyond one’s social, geographic, economic or political boundaries. And for both good and bad, the tools make it easier to debate the message, put up new walls, or break down old ones.