When I was fifteen, my days were spent riding my horse and hanging out with friends at the Cleveland Metroparks. Sure, I joined Key Club and helped raise money for the annual Race for the Cure, but I wasn’t really thinking beyond my suburb, or myself, when it came to giving back. The teenagers I met and listened to at this weekend’s TEDxYSE (Youth Social Entrepreneurs) conference in D.C. are quite the opposite.
Today’s teens are more aware of the needs that exist in the world, thanks in no small part to the way we consume information online, making the world a much smaller place than it was 10 years ago. In addition, their connection to the world around them empowers them to make a difference.
Fifteen-year-old Talia Leman began collecting spare change in her neighborhood to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and that small act grew into a nonprofit organization (of which she is CEO) that today has leveraged the power of millions of kids solving real-world problems. To Talia, the notion was simple – she wanted to help and found a way to connect with her community to do just that.
Young people today are not afraid to fail — a characteristic with which prior generations (myself included) often had a hard time. Perhaps that’s due to the broad support systems that exist via social networks and blogs today. Thanks to the online world, it’s much easier these days to find someone like-minded that will be your advocate than it was in years past.
Listening to these stories was inspiring, of course, but also made me realize that taking steps toward making change can be less daunting than we think. We just have to think like a 15-year-old CEO sometimes. Talia’s organization, RandomKid, is built on three simple steps: “select a world issue, choose a solution, make it happen.” And it’s working, with 12 million youth from 20 countries providing aid across the globe. Sometimes, small steps really do lead to large-scale change.
Whether it’s through our work advocating for organizations making social change, or by simply volunteering, making a difference can truly begin with simple actions. I’m proud to work with organizations and individuals every day who are making the world a better place, one idea at a time through clear, actionable steps. I’m also proud to say I’ve come a long way from my teenage days of focusing on what was directly within reach, rather than the impact my actions could have.
I encourage you to read some of the stories that were shared at TEDxYSE — we can all learn something from a 15-year-old CEO.
People at South by Southwest find themselves surrounded by “digital celebrities” – the bloggers we all know and read, journalists with Twitter followings in the thousands, authors of books that aim to change the way we use the Internet. These leaders in social media and the digital world, and more importantly, their vast networks and following, can be the key to a successful awareness-building, engagement or media campaign.
It’s all about tapping into a connected community or – as we often tell our clients – meeting people where they are online. By leveraging the power of digital thought leaders and their networks, your organization’s message or call to action can spread like wildfire. Consider the following factors when you engage the online community:
- Engaging a connected audience. Meet people in their online spaces; don’t ask them to come to you. Understand where your audience works, plays and goes online – and meet them there with information or an “ask,” whether it’s through a leading blog, Twitter conversation or engaging a digital leader as a champion.
- Leveraging a timely hook. SxSW is an ideal example, but consider other convenings of like-minded individuals (digital or industry-based – TED and NTEN come to mind), where your audience is already connected to online conversations about the issue. This ensures that your user engagement remains timely and action-oriented.
- Creating an easy “ask.” By tapping into a digitally connected audience, you open up to some very easy initial “asks” (i.e. just open your iPhone and tweet about us!). You don’t need to require your audience to do any heavy lifting (digital or literal) to begin to build a relationship and promote your cause.
The key to these strategies is driving conversation to spark action. Whether your goal is raising money, attracting Twitter followers or seeking media coverage, it all starts with engaging your audience – and influencers in your space – to generate conversation about the issue. For an example of our work with the Pepsi Refresh Project, check out our Pepsi Refresh South by Southwest Challenge, an online activation to fund digital ideas that were supported by influencers(@GaryVee, @adamostrow, @ConsumerQueen) at the conference this year.