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.


Are politicians using social media effectively?

Blog post # 5

After Barack Obama’s first campaign, politicians in Canada began to see the power of social media to influence voters. While Obama’s use of social media to engage supporters seemed to mirror the advice of social media experts – engage, be personable, be sincere, and have a conversation – his imitators north of the border may not be as skilled in reaching out to constituents using this new suite of tools. As various companies offer tools to measure the impact and reach of social media messages, the political arena is one place to directly observe the impact of social media on action outside of the world of “clicks.”

Interestingly, most of our politicians seem to know that they need to use social media tools to stay connected to constituents, but no one is talking about how any particular individual is using the media, except when they post something so inappropriate that they have to resign.

Certainly, their efforts have not resulted in the same excitement and engagement that Obama’s campaign witnessed. While his messages inspired followers to form groups, organize online polls, raise money and hold rallies, with calls to action, Canadian politicians tend to use the tools just to push information. In Canada, politicians give updates, post photos of themselves and their families and open YouTube channels to make their speeches available. But nothing much seems to happen as a result.

Their lack of social media savvy has inspired Mark Blevis, a new media consultant, to set up a website offering “social media makeovers” to MPs across the country, and giving them grades for their performance so far. He finds that most have static web pages, bland Facebook pages, and poor integration of the tools they do use. Looking at four categories – digital ecosystem, content, participation and community, and interruption – he finds most politicians need one of his makeovers because they are only half-heartedly online.

Most pundits hold out hope that Justin Trudeau, most recently famous for his tweet announcing the birth of his new child, will show Canadians how to rouse the populace and reach young voters with the new campaign tools.

I have to admit that I do not follow a single politician on social media – if you do, what are the benefits that you see from engaging in politics in this new, more direct and interactive mode?


Tom Flanagan,

Mark Blevis,

Deborah Coyne,

Blurring the lines between work and life in social media use

Blog Post # 4

A few months ago, I was working on a computer in the office of an organization my team is working with on a development project in the Caribbean.  I wanted to look something up on Facebook and found that the site was blocked – as it turns out, so was LinkedIn.  Interestingly, you could get to probably the biggest timewaster, YouTube.  This whole blocking of the personal use of the company computers and networks to access social media seemed so 10 years ago to me.

In Canada and the United States, by contrast, the pressure is now on to use social media at work – both your personal accounts and those of your employer. A survey looking at the social media use of 600 workers found that workers of all ages are logging on to Facebook and Twitter at work in big numbers. Some are even pressured to use their own accounts to promote company messages, blurring the lines between professional and private social lives.  While 25% of the respondents said they were encouraged to use their personal accounts for work purposes, 17% reported that using their own accounts was required. This reality is in stark contrast to the old approach of blocking social media sites in the workplace for fear that the work won’t get done.

IBM is one of those companies that encourages its employees to use social media. According to Warren Tomlin, writing in the Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab series, “IBM uses the term ‘work-life integration’ rather than ‘work-life balance’ because the reality is for our people – and specifically people entering our work force – the lines between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ are blurry.” He reports checking personal accounts, texting his colleagues, and using chat programs simultaneously to be in constant communication with teams throughout the day and night. He points out that many of these tools promote more natural, less formal conversation than e-mail does and suit the always-on business culture we live in today.

Tomlin claims that new grads joining the work force are used to constant sharing of information on social networks and naturally gravitate to this integration of work and life. But he may be wrong to assume that this will familiarity with social media will make new graduates experts in using these tools to the advantage of their employers. According to William Ward, professor of social media at Syracuse University, they know how to use social media to connect with people they already know but are not skilled in using social media tools to reach out to new professional contacts and, more importantly, do not always realize that the lines between the professional and personal worlds are so blurry, and they continue to post inappropriate selfies and comments on their personal accounts after entering the professional world.

The take away from this is that companies that want to benefit from the use of social media should expect to train new employees on how to use social media professionally and strategically. They need to find ways to layer the communication and strategy skills onto the technical skills and personal social media skills of recent graduates. Inside the company itself, the use of social media tools to facilitate teamwork on projects has proven to be effective and economical.  Internal networks like Yammer promote the kind of informal and instant communication that Tomlin finds so effective in his work for IBM – instead of working with overloaded e-mail boxes, savvy companies use message boards and chat tools to allow everyone to contribute to project progress in one place. A McKinsey Global Institute Report found that the use of internal social media to support better-functioning teams could add between $900 million and $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy by increasing productivity in the work place.

I am thinking now of having a chat with the head of our partner organization, which, while full of bright, hard-working people equipped with smart phones and tablets, is mired in internal process barriers and formal communication protocols that slow the pace of meeting goals . . . maybe step one would be removing the barriers to using social media tools and freeing staff to communicate naturally.

Socializing with Social Media — Mommy Bloogers

Blog Post # 3

As rumours that teens are moving away from Facebook continue to circulate, social media sites continue to attract members from other demographic groups.  If you think about it, teens are one of the groups with the most non-media social opportunities.  They can connect with one another off line at school, at sports events, or just hanging out together.

The groups now emerging as heavy users of social media are those with fewer face-to-face social opportunities who can create or maintain communities online. Seniors, for example, tend to use Facebook to stay in touch with family members who may be far away.  But stay at home mothers probably best exemplify this trend of socializing through social media.

It’s true that they are one of the biggest users of Meetup, using the social media tool to set up events for some of the face-to-face socializing that was easier to arrange in the days when there were fewer families with both parents working outside of the home.

But the proliferation of mommy blogs suggests that a significant amount of conversation and sharing happens online.  These blogs allow mothers to share expertise – most are focused on a specific philosophy of family rearing or offering tips on running a household – and allow many to make money through product reviews and click through ads.  There is a blog out there where a stay at home mom can find validation and a sense of shared values for any approach to raising a family, allowing individuals who may feel isolated to connect to like-minded parents beyond their local community. This weekend, for example, the Globe and Mail featured an interview with a 3-parent family, and one of the two moms writes a mommy blog. Some writers focus on home schooling or saving money or craft projects, and there are a number of skilled writers with thousands of followers.

To me, mommy blogs exemplify the power of social media to give a voice to those who might not be heard in the regular media channels and to connect those who might be isolated in their day-to-day life to a social circle.

Reference:  Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody


What makes social media “social”? Blog Post # 2

This week saw the celebration of Facebook’s 10th anniversary.  A Pew Research Centre survey shows that, despite rumours of its impending death, Facebook use is still on the rise, even among teens.  But it seems that users approach it differently based on their gender.  The survey results suggest that women use it for more truly “social” purposes than do men, who use it primarily to catch up on the news.

While equal numbers of men and women use Facebook to receive feedback on comments and get updates on their networks, more women than men use it to receive support, help others, look at photos and videos, and share “funny” posts – to be sociable, in other words.

If men and women tend to use the most popular platform in different ways, then businesses and organizations trying to reach customers or influence the political actions of the people in their networks should probably tailor their social media messaging and usage to the gender differences that have been documented. Facebook would be a good platform for sharing stories and videos that women might repost and share with their friends. It would be a good tool for raising awareness amongst women of social issues.  But it might not be a good place to post a call to action for men.

In May 2013, U.S.-based Government Technology magazine reported that it isn’t just how men and women use social media that differs – they also are drawn to different social media tools. More men than women use Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn.  More women than men use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. While 67% of online adults use Facebook, 58% of Facebook’s user base is female.  And the average woman on Facebook shares more items and has more friends than the average man.  But where they really dominate is on Pinterest, where 70% of the user base is female.

Men, on the other hand, tend to flock to Google+ but they don’t use it to interact with other people — it is not a “social” media platform in that sense.  Similarly, they outnumber females in using LinkedIn (at 54% of the user base), using it primarily to research other companies or to reconnect with past business associates. The network they seem to wish to connect with is a professional network as opposed to a community or family or “social” network.  Men also go to YouTube more often and spend longer on YouTube than typical female users do.  YouTube, while it invites comments and sharing, does not promote social interaction the way that the female-dominated platforms do, so much as consumption of entertainment.

You might conclude from this that if you are trying to generate business, you should  have a strategy to go after LinkedIn or Google+ but there isn’t any evidence that companies have done that successfully yet.  Interestingly enough, Pinterest is generating more business for companies using social media than is any other platform.  Companies seem to be doing a good job of reaching the female consumer with social media.  If I were running a business and trying to generate revenue from male consumers, it seems that a good YouTube video and a sound company profile on LinkedIn would be the preferred medium, but we might want to start referring to those platforms as the less-social media.




Social Media now Mainstream Media

This week I met the only person in the English-speaking world who has not heard of Rob Ford. I was in Belize City waiting to go on the local morning show, and the television in the green room was tuned to CNN.  Sure enough, there was a piece on Rob Ford’s latest drunken performance being shown. My Belizean colleague, who does not use social media, had not heard of our Canadian scandal.  By Friday, however, he had seen a late night American talk show do a piece on Mayor Ford and was ribbing me about him.

This got me thinking that the Rob Ford stories, my colleague here aside, show quite clearly the power of social media to make and spread news before the traditional media can catch up.  From time to time, you still hear traditional media being referred to as “mainstream” media, but, today, social media is “mainstream” and traditional media secondary.  His stories show the power of cell phone technology to make us all videographers and the power of sites for sharing video with friends and strangers to bring news to the world fast and unfiltered.  Then the traditional media pick the stories up and spread them further.

CityNews hired the firm Marketwired to analyze the social media frenzy at the end of last October when the Toronto police announced that they had video evidence of the Mayor smoking crack cocaine.  What they found was that Rob Ford was mentioned more than 1.5 million times on social media (1.4 million mentions were as tweets).  Their data also showed that Ford was mentioned an average of 2,767 times an hour.  Traditional media followed soon after. An Influence Communications analysis of media coverage provided to the Canadian Press showed that Mayor Ford received more media coverage in the United States than any other Canadian news story since the beginning of this century.

The Ford Saga was covered by the tabloids, of course, but also by the New York Times and other more serious media outlets, too.  Influence determined that Rob Ford was mentioned in 14,385 stories on American television, radio, websites and newspapers between November 4 (the day before he confessed to having indulged in crack cocaine) and December 1.

None of this would have been possible without the video taken with a cell phone that started the police investigation.  And this week’s story, that sent Rob Ford back into the media glare, was also a result of a citizen reporter sharing a cell phone video.  Now Jimmy Kimmel is trying to launch a Rob Ford meme, which would involve the Rob Ford imitators pushing through hoards of traditional media reporters pushing mikes in their faces while the imitators say inane things.  He calls it “RobFording.”

It all makes me wonder why Rob Ford doesn’t realize that there are social media users with cameras everywhere he goes, and it also makes me think about the challenges of being a politician and maintaining a private life in a social media world.