Exploring Social Responsibility Through Social Media

Corporations and organizations are increasingly turning to social media sites to promote causes, but such sites are also a great vehicle for individuals to make a positive contribution to society both locally and globally. The social media response to the recent Chilean earthquake disaster shows that people value a comfortable outlet to stay connected in the times of crisis.  An earthquake in Haiti in Jan 2010 sparked multiple online fund raising campaigns.

As Marian Salzman writes in the Huffington post, the Red Cross managed to raise over US$5M for Haiti disaster relief through text messaging. While text messages are on a mobile platform, information about the campaign was also propagated through Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, going viral. Facebook’s own Global Disaster Relief page informs of visitors about current crises in Haiti and Chile, and informs about other actual or possible disasters. Additionally, a number of developers of Social Gaming applications, e.g., Facebook games developer Zynga, have raised relief funds for Haiti.

Charitable organizations such as SM4SC (Social Media for Social Change) have used social sites such as Twitter and Tumblr to raise funds in the U.S. for City Harvest, an NYC nonprofit that helps feed the homeless through various campaigns. Corporations such as Pepsi and Target are using social media to do good. Target, for example, regularly uses their growing Facebook fan base to contribute to and promote causes including education and health. Pepsi not only plans to give away millions to charities but is crowdsourcing ideas through their Refresh Everything project (see screenshot below).

However, all these initiatives fall under CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility. The fact is, social media has given us all, as individuals, a great vehicle for micro-campaigns, which can grow viral if enough interest is invoked. It’s not just companies and organizations that can utilize social media for socially responsible causes. People no longer have the excuse that they believed in a cause but didn’t know how to do anything about the issues at hand. Now, anyone with access to an Internet connection can build social media networks and raise awareness.

To wit, Danny Brown turned forty and was inspired to do “something big”. Social Media Examiner has a detailed look at how Brown used a variety of social media (a blog, Twitter, Facebook Group page, etc.) to raise money through the 12for12k Challenge project that he launched. Events included a 12-hour Tweet-a-Thon that resulted in over US$15K in contributions. The organization raised over $90K for various causes in 2009, with the help of volunteers.

Now, granted Brown has experience in corporate communications and social media. However, he launched the 12for12K Challenge ($12K monthly, for 12 charities, for 12 months) with no budget and minimal costs (domain name, website and hosting). The initiative aims to give 100% of donations raised to charity – which is a viable goal with such relatively low overhead for operational costs and a team of volunteers.

What this shows is that individuals can make a difference, especially if they use social media effectively. If you have your own projects in mind, a very nutshell guideline to raising awareness through social media is as follows:

  1. Create the necessary social media accounts.
  2. Build a related website or at least create a Facebook page explaining the campaign.
  3. Have an official, authentic means of collecting funds, if you are raising money, else run the risk of being labelled a scammer.
  4. Build your social networks through Twitter, Facebook and whatever other social sites that are relevant.
  5. Promote the campaign with updates, queries, requests, pictures, audio, video — all as appropriate.

If you’ve raised awareness for social causes through social media, let us know what you’ve done. What difficulties did you face, and how did you get around them? If you’re thinking about raising awareness, what’s stopping you?