Social Media for Social Good?

COM 0011 Blog Post 6

In the developed world, the most well-known social media campaigns are the ones that have been used by companies to achieve their business goals. Can the same social media tools and strategies be used to achieve international development goals?

The answer is that the same strategies can be used, but the tools and platforms chosen may be different. Development agencies must, like businesses, set clear goals for their social media efforts and introduce monitoring programs to measure the impact and success of their social media campaigns.

Suppose the goal is to raise funds for projects in developing countries. One tool that can be used effectively is YouTube. Short videos bring the developing world and international issues into the homes and hearts of donors in the developing world. You can click here to see some sample international development videos from this year and make your own decisions about their effectiveness. This Save the Children video was viewed 2 million times in one day, which might mean that it was effective in moving the audience, but the return on investment would not be counted in clicks. It would be counted in dollars donated, which was probably less than $2million.

To be effective in prompting the viewer to action, the videos need to have good story lines and strong human interest elements, not just “asks” or project descriptions. The Save the Children video is compelling because of its use of a young girl experiencing the disruptions of war, an approach that shows rather than tells. Viewers can picture themselves or their families in the situations depicted online. To keep social media users returning to a YouTube channel or web page, development agencies might consider using serial storytelling – creating suspense, adding episodes, and drawing viewers back to see what happens next. This approach would work both to generate donations and to raise awareness of issues. Just like businesses, they need to rise above the chatter online with really compelling content and good audience interactions.

But suppose the goal is to deliver messages, get feedback, or undertake advocacy campaigns in the developing world itself? Computer and Internet access is limited and traditional social media that depend on strong visuals, generous broadband and always available connectivity are not going to work.   The tools and messages will have to be those that work well on mobile phones, which have a much higher penetration rate than computers do in the developing world. In a world with 7 billion people, there are over 6 billion mobile phone subscribers. In Africa, for example, only 7% of the population uses social networks on computers; 67% of the population uses mobile phones. In this context, starting conversations using Twitter and instant messaging services is going to work more effectively than Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Instagram sites or other heavily image-based programs.

Considering how to reach the populations not connected to the Internet at all times raises another consideration, too. How can the message get through to the portions of the population who are not literate? Some success has been achieved by using voice messaging services to send messages, news, and calls to action.

Social media clearly has a power to achieve results beyond the personal or company branding realm — and development agencies can harness this power, as long as they develop sound strategies based on clear goals and measure their results.


One thought on “Social Media for Social Good?

  1. Great blog! I think that you have addresses some very interesting points. I agree with you that a social media has the power but a strategic plan needs to be put in to motion, without having clearly defined goals put in place it doesn’t matter how many people social media reaches, if it isn’t reaching the right people it is wasted efforts.

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