Social Media for Social Good


The power of social media breeds life into new waves of activism – creating results that would be nearly impossible without social platforms.

In July 2014, the #IceBucketChallenge took social media by storm as people began dumping buckets of ice water on each other to raise awareness for those with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, LeBron James, and Bill Gates joined in and the hashtag quickly became a global phenomenon. By September of that year, nearly 28 million people had participated in what became one of the greatest examples of grassroots social media fundraising, amassing over $100 million for the ALS Association, and leading to several significant breakthroughs in research for ALS.

The ripple effects of the #IceBucketChallenge spread far and wide, and has served as a case study for many on how to use social media to bring about real impact and awareness around a social issue or cause. It managed to apply many of the best practices of social media fundraising, including the use of Brand Ambassadors, Facebook’s then-relatively new video technology, social pressure, and a clear ask, but what allowed it to really take off was its ability to appeal to individuals at the grassroots level.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen several examples of social media for social good, signifying that trend will likely continue to grow. For those of us in the digital communications space, it is important to take note of what works and why.

The UN recently began to appeal for increased aid for Somalia and surrounding countries experiencing what they say is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. They have called on donor countries, which have only raised 31% of the funds needed to prevent the famine from taking millions of lives, to step up yet little progress has been made. Enter: French social media celebrity, Jerome Jarre, who took to Twitter on March 15th with a “crazy idea”: find a plane, fill it with food, and fly it to Somalia. Since his video posted, a whirlwind of activity has taken place around the hashtag #LoveArmyForSomalia, receiving media attention across the world and even landing the campaign on the front page of the New York Times.

Celebrities such as Colin Kaepernick and Ben Stiller got involved, and according to their Go Fund Me page, the campaign has raised over $2 million in one week from a whopping 80 thousand people. What’s more, using the hashtag #TurkishAirlinesHelpSomalia, Jarre and his celebrity friends were able to convince Turkish Airlines – the only major airline that flies to Somalia – to donate a cargo plane and a flight crew to the campaign. A video about the campaign, produced by Casey Niestat, has received almost 3.5 million views to date and both hashtags have gone viral.

The campaign is proof-positive that when governments with their slow-moving machinery struggle to accommodate the needs on the ground, individuals can quickly step in and show off thanks to rapid-fire access through social media. Bring tens of thousands of people together to donate? Check. Elicit the support of major celebrities? Check. Get a giant airline company to lend a plane? Check.

Last week, after the Westminster Attack rattled London, a man named Muddassar Ahmed decided that he needed to do something to help the victims and their families. He launched a crowdfunding campaign called Muslims United for London, quickly gaining support from several Members of Parliament and reaching people in London and beyond with an inspiring and inclusive message of hope. Surpassing its original goal of £10,000 (about $12,500) in roughly 15 hours, the campaign went on to raise over £28,000 ($35,000) from 1,200 people in only two days. The campaign garnered attention from over 50 news outlets in that time frame, and has been shared the world over.

While modest in size and scope relative to viral campaigns like those mentioned above, this campaign exemplifies the power of social media to galvanize people around a single issue or goal. What sets this effort apart as a great example of social media for social good is the fact that the champion of the campaign, Mr. Ahmed, has roughly 3,000 followers on Twitter compared to Jerome Jarre’s 1.32 million followers and Ben Stiller’s 5.55 million followers. It demonstrates that while having star power behind a cause can help push it out to the masses, it is not necessary for success. One of social media’s greatest strengths is its ability to connect people who would never otherwise be connected.

These methods are not without their critics, of course. Well-meaning celebrities, including those behind the #LoveArmyForSomalia campaign, are sometimes ill-informed and must rely on experts to better manage how funds are used. Others criticize such efforts as “slacktivism” – a term that conjures up the #BringBackOurGirls and Kony 2012 campaigns that were not as effective as some had hoped.

Yet, despite failed attempts and misplaced efforts, social media will likely continue to serve as a tool for social good because more and more people are coming online. Social media allows anyone to reach both those at the top as well as the masses; it allows for the spread of information at lightning speeds; and it allows us to connect across borders, languages, faiths, and any number of dividing lines. It presents a profound ability for access, and therein lies the appeal of social media for social good.

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