Social Media

Sep 24

Final thoughts from the Social Good Summit

David Leavitt

The Social Good Summit organizers put on a good event this year. They brought together nonprofits, celebrities, world leaders and agencies to discuss how innovations in communications technology can make the world a better place.

However, the event’s tagline could use some work:  "New Power. New Players. New Platforms." Let's address the tagline's three statements in reverse order:

New Platforms. 

When social media was in its infancy a decade ago, it was the Wild West for new platforms. A new site popped up every day, it seemed. However, things have settled down in the last few years.

At this point, many nonprofits have joined the world of blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. For the most part, there’s little reason for them to seek new platforms. The existing social platforms are constantly reinventing themselves. And startups such as Juno have a hard time breaking through

In fact, the oldest platforms are among the most valuable. Broadcast and print outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post remain the gold standard for nonprofits seeking attention.  

Pundits love to cite the Arab protests this spring as an example of the power of Twitter. But, in fact, 75 percent of Egyptians do not have Internet access, let alone Twitter accounts. And only 0.027 percent of tweets about Egypt, Yemen or Tunisia were written in those countries. “TV and radio were huge players in creating global awareness of the Tahrir Square protests,” said Palestinian-American media scholar Hegla Tawil-Souri in her address to summit attendees. “And freedom of assembly offline was the real driver in Egypt.” The world isn’t looking for new platforms.  

New Players. 

Who are the new players? Has a nonprofit’s donor base changed? Probably not. There’s no question that the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa are a great example that everyday people can make a difference. But revolutions have taken place throughout history, with or without the Internet – the constant has been the people. The players are the same as they’ve always been.  

New Power.

Aha! Now we’re onto something. Activists have more power today than ever before. As my colleague Jackie Titus pointed out earlier this week, social technologies have empowered activists with a voice and a platform that has limitless potential.  

  • The power to be informed: Print newspapers are rapidly losing circulation and yet people have access to more timely information than at any point in human history.
  • The power to share and rally other activists: Social technologies make it easier than ever before for people to spread information and get it into more people’s hands.  

Where does this leave us? We have the platforms at our disposal. Let’s take the next step by demonstrating, through real-world examples, how they are empowering players to do social good.  

We have the platforms at our disposal. Let’s take the next step by demonstrating through real-world examples how they are empowering players to do social good.

Sep 19

Dispatches from Social Good Summit

David Leavitt

As we did last year, we'll be sending a team to the Social Good Summit, held this week in New York City. The event -- sponsored by Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation -- is billed as a summit to disuss how innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. 

We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog and in real-time on Twitter: @WSSocialImpact.

Last year, our team came home with some valuable lessons in ways to use new media to make the world a better place. For example: 

We look forward to a week of spirited discussions. If you'll be attending, let us know in the comments of this post or by @replying us on Twitter.

Feb 28

Social Media: Bringing voice to the voiceless


Here on the blog we talk a lot about the powerful role social media can play in driving advocacy efforts. Most recently, we discussed the role it played in Egypt and its impact on a global scale. Over the weekend, a piece in the New York Times: A Life on the Streets, Captured on Twitter caught our attention, which focused on a unique approach to using social media to bring about social change.

Underheard In New York
is the brainchild of three interns: Rosemary, Willy, and Robert who were given the challenge to “Do something good, famously,” by the advertising firm BBH where the recent college graduates currently intern. The project follows four homeless men: Danny, Carlos, Derrick, and Albert – each have been given prepaid cell phones and Twitter accounts that collectively boast a following of 15,905 (as of 9am Monday).

The mission is bold: “Fighting Homelessness 140 characters at a time,” but certainly a sign of the times for the evolving world of communications. The project’s creators wanted to connect those impacted by homelessness with the global community and for that they turned to social media.   

Underheard in New York is currently in progress and the long-term impact for  Danny, Carlos, Derrick, and Albert remains to be seen, (you’ll have to follow along for yourself).

Regardless of the scale of change, the social nature of this project has provided a unique experience that was not possible just a few years ago:   

  • Access: In its purest form, Twitter allows users to have a peak into a life or experience that is not their own. This project provides the opportunity to follow four men in real time, and the chance to interact and lend support.
  • Community: The men participating in the project have benefitted from the support of a global following. Each of them actively responds to words of encouragement, which for Derrick “help him avoid a spiral into dejection,” he says.
  • Visibility and Voice: While the tools provided to these men are simply that – tools used to communicate a message – they make it possible to engage with an audience that could not previously be reached. These tools have given Danny, Carlos, Derrick and Albert a voice.

In addition to the opportunity of real time access and engagement with the project, the team behind Underheard in New York has done a great job of updating the community about successes thus far. In fact, the same New York Times piece that inspired this post also inspired New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith to reach out to Derrick directly to offer support. As an added bonus, we were all able to watch it all unfold on Twitter.

Be sure to check out the project and let us know what you think. Does the social nature of the project impact your interest or involvement?


Feb 14

Tweeting with a purpose

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

There seems to be a backlash about the important place social media has in our lives. People such as Malcolm Gladwell have written extensively that the value of Facebook and Twitter is overblown when it comes to creating social change.

Much of Gladwell’s reasoning is flawed, but his pessimism does force us to be clearer about our goal with social media. For those of us looking to make a difference though activism campaigns, Gladwell is right that the challenge is to build and mobilize online communities rather than simply make noise.

During a Social Media Week event, The Yes Men co-founder Andy Bichlbaum compared social media tools to the phone trees that spurred people to action in the 1960s. The telephone has played a big role in information sharing over the years, but we don’t hold the telephone accountable for the lack of social activism the way Gladwell and others blame Facebook for societal apathy.

In real life it can be our nature to be passive, and it should come as no surprise that we can be the same way on Facebook. That is, it’s easy to “like” a cause on Facebook, but it is a much bigger lift to donate money, show up at a rally and vote on Election Day.

As Naomi Hirabayshi of put it, real change in social entrepreneurship takes place offline, but word of mouth (and its online equivalent, which is social networking) is the best way to share trusted information.

Feb 11

Using maps to tell a story

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

You may not know it, but you’re familiar with geographic information systems (GIS). After all, GIS has been in the mainstream for about 20 years ever since people began accessing maps on their home computers.

You likely use GIS through online mapping tools such as MapQuest or Google Maps.

These days, geospatial librarians and historians (yes, such people exist) study human behavior through maps.

By overlaying historical maps on present-day maps, “we can get into digital time travel,” historian Jack Eichenbaum told a Social Media Week gathering.

To Matt Knutzen, geospatial librarian at the New York Public Library, maps aren’t about geography. They’re about relating all kinds of human experiences through spatial information in the form of photos, newspaper mentions or just about any other form of data imaginable. And they’re about providing real-world context to huge data sets through visualization.

Foursquare users, who “check-in” to locations they visit and leave tips for their friends, are leaving behind a trove of information. As Foursquare’s Alex Rainert points out, historical data becomes a master key to help connect through time.Using foursquare and other GIS applications, our world is creating an enormous amount of personal historical data.

For historians in the future, a world with decades of Foursquarecheck-in data and geo-located Tweets could prove useful when studying our social habits.

But for now, there’s plenty of information for us to study.The New York Public Library has digitized about 10,000 historical maps, and sites such as collect publicly available GIS data. There are even tools such as that will help you create thematic maps.

Every organization has an important message. Can maps help tell your story?


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