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Social media, whether it be Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, thrives due to its ability to cultivate connections and promote interactions in real time, regardless of users’ location. Accessibility and connectivity are joint rulers of this digital world, transforming how we perceive and consume information. From celebrities’ tweets to multinational companies’ posts on Facebook, social media simultaneously allows individuals and various groups to promote themselves and their messages while creating a dialogue with interested followers — which is why it comes as no surprise that an increasing number of nonprofit organizations and governments are embracing social media and using it to communicate their messages to a wider audience.
In the United States, one major development in the utilization of social media for public outreach has been the State Department’s employment of technology in the field of diplomacy, also known as “21st-century statecraft.” As noted in the American Prospect, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described statecraft in a speech she delivered to the Council of Foreign Relations back in 2009, saying, “We are working at the State Department to ensure that our government is using the most innovative technologies not only to speak and listen across borders, not only to keep technologies up and going, but to widen opportunities, especially for those who are too often left on the margins." Led by Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Alec Ross, the relatively new approach has already been applied (successfully) in several scenarios. One of the most well-known examples of 21st-century statecraft occurred in June 2009 when Jared Cohen, former member of the State Department policy planning staff, asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance during the Tehran election protests in order to allow protesters to continue to use the social media platform to communicate and organize.
Twenty-first-century statecraft is but one approach to using social media to advance a social cause. As the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Social Media for Social Good infographic illustrates, several grassroots and nonprofit campaigns have effectively harnessed social media in the pursuit of their objectives. The infographic focuses on four initiatives — the response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, Charity: Water, Tweet Drive, and Twestival — and breaks down the campaigns’ success (how many people participated, how much money was raised, etc.). It also examines how the nature of donating and volunteering is changing in the age of social media. For example: At the beginning of 2010, the total amount of money raised via mobile donations was $1 million; after the Haiti earthquake in January, that amount grew to $50 million.
In addition to campaigns, social media plays an important role at many socially conscious companies. In New York, Purpose, an agency devoted to the creation of 21st-century social and political movements, uses social media to engage and get people to become active participants in movements that address today’s most pressing problems. In Los Angeles, the 2011 acquisition of Jumo, a social-networking website that helps nonprofits raise awareness and money, by GOOD, a self-described “global community of, by and for pragmatic idealists working towards individual and collective progress,” led to the formation of an even bigger agent of social change. In addition to fostering the development of relationships between like-minded individuals and organizations dedicated to effecting change within their communities, GOOD’s GOOD/CORPS works with brands to help them embrace a more proactive and socially conscious role in society.
Organizations recognize the importance of social media in present-day connectivity, and, consequentially, its incredible potential to spur action in a vast, increasingly interconnected audience.
Logan Harper is the Community Manager of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Government's Master of Public Administration. Outside of work, Logan enjoys traveling, cooking and watching obscure documentaries.
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Click here to read Pat Lewis's post, "Staying on the leading edge: The several economies of the social sector."