How to drive Social change through social networking

A good majority of us think of social media as a time waster, so much so that corporate IT networks block them off. However social media today has moved beyond personal “keep in touch” vehicles to one of the strategic ways to drive social change. How does it all happen? What should non profits do? Is it just for the big non profits? What are the most important things in implementing a social media strategy?. This paper gives a practical approach drawn from experience reaching out social media skills to more than 750 non profits in India.

A good majority of us think of social media as a time waster, so much so that corporate IT networks block them off. However social media today has moved beyond personal “keep in touch” vehicles to one of the strategic ways to drive social change.

How does it all happen? Its fairly simple: passionate people write (blog, tweet, post) high impact stories, donors and interested people read them and ACT. They act to raise donations (Facebook causes, paypal), mobilize resources(like in Haiti), share the issue(hyperlink, talk(skype,gtalk) forward to more influencers. In a matter of second the word spreads everywhere. A tweet takes 1 sec to reach to corners of the globe.

Furthermore the combination of mobiles and online social networks has proved to be a game changer at how social issues were looked at. The easy availability of these social networks in mainstream mobile handsets is empowering people to report directly and create a community of collaboration.

Its the possibility to work with free agents outside organisational boundaries and work with crowds at a go that is driving the change. Campaigns in Crowd Sourcing like the U.S Online community giving campaign, The facebook boobshake campaign, The Haiti earthquake relief efforts have just provided preliminary evidence of how big the  power of collaborative network can  be particularly when time  is a critical factor.

Organisations today are taking social media seriously. The Redcross for eg now has a social media strategy and guidelines, They have a blog, micro blog( twitter), a youtube account, a photo sharing account all linked up for integrative collaborative communication.

So if this is so important What should non profits do? is it just for the big non profits? Well the curve has now moved from the innovators to adopters and now to the broad spectrum. The fundamental thing is to get started (its never too late) but it is not about full throttled bang start, it’s an iterative learning process, where mistakes will be made. I believe non profits must employ young volunteers to begin with and then slowly move up the ladder if they think the entire thing works for them. They need to come from the crawl to the fly stage slowly.

 How can non profits go about this whole thing? Increased social media tools clutter the space, its very easy to get lost(hence abandon it as hogwash), given that you should  pick one base platform and link all other social media to it, it appropriate to have an ideally cutoff time limit you spend on social media in a day or a feeling of wasting time will seep in. Non profits must listen, engage and deliver excellent content . In the long run what really matters is the content.Social media requires generating buzz, such a buzz leads to movements and relationships.

One of the most important thing is to identify evangelists and influencers. On a more daily basis what it really means is to understand who really cares for your online actions, hence efforts must include monitoring RSS and metrics for social media tools. The fact that most of the social media tools do have metrics to understand impact helps organisations to measure the impact of the time spent.

In a world of outsourcing, it is the ability of non profits to focus on what they can do best and leave the rest to a community of free agents who go out to create high impact by initiating a chain of actions.

Its not just in the developing world, this is even more relavant for non profits in India, non profits in India have been struggling with issues of transparency and accountability. Social media gives them an opportunity to build open cause driven relations with their supporters. I have been conducting workshops in India with the NASSCOM Foundation and made non profits adopt these tools. I have seen people finding jobs via facebook, funding organizations assessing non profits by web presence; indeed a movement is on right from the grassroots to the national scale. There have been good examples of organisation using social media eg. Pratham books uses twitter to streamline books.

The core of social media lie in the ability to “Cocreate”, this two way communication makes people participative and channelizes energy and resources to common good.

Its all in the recognition of the way people’s information consumption needs, the methods and means that explains the social media story. Its about adopting it or being left out and for those adopting it is about integrative communication.
The above article is based on Ashutosh’s experience in working to bridge digital divide in India. He founded  a social enterprise apnaIT  and worked with NASSCOM Foundation to make non profit adopt Social media for social good. Some of the ideas have come from interactions with Beth Kanter a social media expert whom he met in one of the NASSCOM Foundation workshops.

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