Guest post by Sam Wright
Social media gets a bad rep these days. With these stories about happy slapping and teenagers trashing their parents homes during massive house parties (because that never happened before), and journalists going into a great big sulk every time Twitter gets upset that they’ve said something horribly racist, sexist, or homo or transphobic, you could easily think that the Internet was giant whirlpool of hate with occasional kitten pictures thrown in. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
However social media can also be a powerful tool for charities and other NGOs, if they know how to use it correctly.
Now in fairness, “raising awareness” is one of the biggest charity cons social media has introduced, with ideas like “donating a tweet” (a tweet being something of virtually no intrinsic value) or everyone changing their Facebook profile picture to their favourite Ninja Turtle to raise awareness of something that they’ve already forgotten by the time they’ve got into an argument over whether Donatello or Leonardo was better (the correct answer is they both sucked, the Ghostbusters were better).
However, there are some causes where all that really needs doing is awareness raising. The dire need for blood and bone marrow donors is something that really needs shouting about for instance, and social media is a really great way of doing that.
Driving People to Action
It’s not enough to raise awareness of a problem however, you need to get people to actually do something. Often this is something as simple as signing up to a register or making a donation. However, it’s also useful when you need people to be politically active. The current government has, on numerous occasions, made calls that would be damaging to disabled people, for instance.
The stand-up comedian Francisca Martinez has collected thousands of signatures calling for cumulative impact assessment of the way welfare reform will affect disabled people. By spreading it through social media with the #WOW hashtag, she’s been raising awareness, but more importantly, getting people to act to try and influence their government for the better.
Keeping Your Most Ardent Supporters Informed
This is different from simply raising awareness, in that once you know the cause exists its important to be able to keep up with the latest developments affecting it. Many charities use mailing lists or newsletters or even their own websites for this. However circular emails get treated like junk mail even by the people who signed up for them, and few people take time out of their busy day to check up on every website they have an interest in. But everyone is constantly checking their social media feeds, and important news about your cause is more likely to jump out if it’s mixed in with the latest XKCD cartoon and photos of other people’s lunch.
Making people aware of your cause is only the first step. One of the hardest charity jobs is to keep sustaining that interest. By building a relationship with your supporters through the various social media channels available, you can do just that.
License: Creative Commons image source
Sam Wright is a freelance writer and social media specialist who has worked with several charities.