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Using social media for good

In the last decade, social media has revolutionized the way we raise awareness of, advertise and promote social causes. Many organizations now spend a significant amount of time investing in their online presence, and no wonder — social media facilitates discussion and provides unparalleled access to volunteers, staff, donors, journalists, politicians and more.

Social media has been proven to:

  • Improve engagement
  • Break down barriers
  • Allow groups to self-organize around a cause
  • Provide opportunities for crowdsourcing
  • Raise money online
  • Facilitate connections
  • Deepen relationships and partnerships

Still, few nonprofits have learned how to truly maximize their social media campaigns. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of available tools and platforms, and learning what works for your organization can take serious persistence. Don't give up. The potential payoff is boundless.

Here's how you can harness the power of social media for social good.

Don't ignore the slacktivists

Many critics feel that social media has led people to be "armchair activists," describing viral campaigns such as #nomakeupselfie in the U.K. (which raised £8 million) and the global phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge (which raised $115 million in the U.S. alone) as empty gestures. Critics say that people take part not for the cause but because it's popular and they want to be seen to be doing something charitable.

In fact, research by the Journal of Consumer Research, Inc., found two primary motivations that underline slacktivist behavior: a desire to present oneself in a positive light to others and a desire to be consistent with one's own values.

But is this a bad thing? Whether someone supports your cause because of a viral challenge or a passion for your cause, it's how you nurture that relationship afterward that counts. Ask: How might you change a slacktivist into an activist for your cause?

Social proof matters

As with #nomakeupselfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge, the success of these campaigns boiled down to social proof — or, as nonprofit trainer Beth Kanter calls it, "peer pressure in a positive way." It occurs when people take part in a campaign for good and then nominate their friends to do the same by tagging them in their Facebook posts or tweets.

Using these viral campaigns as a model, think about your options. Ask: How might you start a social media campaign that draws on social proof?

From awareness to action

Some people may only land on your webpage or engage with your Twitter feed for a few seconds. To make the most of this time, help potential supporters understand how their actions play into the bigger picture.

For example, consider the pro-democracy protests in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Mubarak in 2011 or the more recent Women's March events that have attracted countless participants around the world — shining examples of the key role social media can play in social awareness and action.

Whether you're generating grassroots support in the fight against inequality, discrimination, brutality, poverty, injustice or another cause, ask: What difference will it make? Utilize your social change story to draw connections to larger advocacy issues.

To share your story through social media, you might:

  • Share a video or show what it's like 'behind the scenes' via Facebook Live
  • Start a new hashtag focused on your mission such as RNLI's #SavingLivesAtSea
  • Publish blog posts from your CEO, staff and beneficiaries
  • Record podcasts
  • Host virtual conferences or events
  • Ask other supporters to share their stories

Save the Children U.K. took their supporters on a tour of a kindergarten in Zaatari in Jordan. The tour gave supporters around the world a glimpse into what life is like in a refugee camp and how the charity is using their donations to make a positive impact on the children who find themselves living away from home. To date, the video has received more than 15,000 views on Facebook.

Social media can bring people closer to your cause, create meaningful relationships and inspire people to come together and take action. Use this power for good.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change