By Missy Sheehan
In the last decade, social media has revolutionized the way people connect with each other, and in that time, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly results of this immediate and constant connectivity.
Despite the online bullying and trolling and the annoyance of navigating through the endless stream of played-out memes and trivial posts on your newsfeed, social media actually can be used as a
social media can be used as a formidable force for social good.
formidable force for social good. “One of the most powerful aspects of social media is that it provides an environment and a medium for people to express themselves independently, and yet find community,” writes Ritu Sharma in an article for the Huffington Post. “This ‘hashtag unity,’ to coin a term, is as real and as powerful as a group of people physically gathered in the same space. It can educate, heal and provoke change by sheer strength of vocal numbers.”
Remember the #ALSIceBucketChallenge that went viral last August, when your newsfeeds were filled with videos of your family members, friends, and coworkers dumping buckets of icy water on themselves and challenging others to do the same? More than 17 million people uploaded #ALSIceBucketChallenge videos to Facebook last year, according to the ALS Association, and these videos were watched by 440 million people all over the world, many of whom made donations. In total, the ALS Association raised $115 million during the six-week campaign. That is the power of using social media for good. (Check out www.alsa.org for updates about this year’s campaign coming up in August.)
In recent years, many other nonprofit organizations and community groups have successfully used social media to boost support for various causes. While online efforts still accounted for less than 15 percent of fundraising in the United States in 2014, they are gaining ground fast, according to Eileen Heisman, chief executive of the National Philanthropic Trust, in a post on the Wall Street Journal’s Family Finances blog. Social media is particularly effective when it comes to inspiring people across all demographics, and especially millennials, to become involved in philanthropy, Heisman added.
Socially and environmentally conscious for-profit companies likewise are using social platforms to help raise awareness and funds for issues they care about. Last year, for example, businesses of all sizes all over the country were posting #ALSIceBucketChallenge videos throughout the campaign.
Companies with large online followings are often particularly well-positioned to tap into their network of customers, fans, and followers for help in supporting a specific cause. In December, for example, Intel ran a Twitter campaign to boost awareness of its Code for Good program, which is aimed at solving social issues through innovative software solutions. As part of that campaign, the company promised to donate $1 for every retweet of one of its Code for Good tweets, and by the end it garnered enough support to donate $45,000 to be split among three nonprofits dedicated to coding education: Code.org, Codeclub, and Girls Who Code.
Smaller and lesser-known businesses can show their support, too, by actively working to raise money via a social media campaign similar to Intel’s or simply by sharing a post to increase awareness about a cause. It’s all about tapping into that hashtag unity Sharma mentioned. “It’s not just noise. It’s having an effect. ...” she writes. “Those taking action shared their experiences, which were amplified by social networks spreading them in solidarity. There is action, attention and further action. So it's a virtuous circle.”