How Social Media Helps Children to Change the World [Interview]

Young people can change the world. At least, the organizers behind the annual We Day - a Free the Children event - think so. And it's pretty hard to argue with that. This year's We Day featured the usual musical acts, celebrity addresses and inspirational speeches to motivate youth to get involved in doing good for their world, but it also included a refreshingly simple social media campaign to raise awareness for the event while also raising money for charity.

Young people can change the world. At least, the organizers behind the annual We Day – a Free the Children event – think so. And it’s pretty hard to argue with that. This year’s We Day featured the usual musical acts, celebrity addresses and inspirational speeches to motivate youth to get involved in doing good for their world, but it also included a refreshingly simple social media campaign to raise awareness for the event while also raising money for charity. We had a chance to talk with Alex Apostol, Digital Director of Me to We, an affiliate of Free the Children, about what works for non-profits looking to make an impact using social media, how We Day has raised over $200,000 on Facebook alone, and what’s in store for the future of non-profit social media.

Can you give our readers a brief background of Free the Children and the We Day events?

We Day is an annual Free The Children event that celebrates the power of young people to change the world. It’s like a rock concert for social change with performances and world leaders speaking on issues they care about. It marks the official kick-off to the year-long We Schools in Action program. The program inspires young people to take two actions over the school year: one to effect change locally, one to effect change globally.

The 1 Like = $1 is a simple and straightforward social media campaign. Can you describe how your team came up with and implemented the idea?

We’ve always thought big here at Free The Children (in fact, ‘Shameless Idealism’ is one of our core values), it’s how we came up with We Day in the first place. For the social media campaign, we knew we wanted to strive for one million likes on Facebook. We also knew that instead of just asking for support, we wanted to add true value to the action we’re asking people to take with this campaign. Lastly, with social media, people don’t typically want to go through lengthy signups or make big commitments; the best way to move things on social media is to keep them simple and straightforward. The 1 Like = $1 idea was the perfect way take an easy and tangible social action, and is something that both longtime supporters and people new to We Day and Free The Children can share with their friends immediately, no explanation needed.

I see that you are close to reaching 200,000 “Likes” on the We Day Facebook page, which translates to nearly $200,000 dollars donated to Free the Children. What factors do you think contributed to such a large response? Did this number meet the goals you had set for the campaign?

We exceeded our expectations in our pre-launch period and we’re now nearing the 200,000 mark, only one week after We Day. I believe that the large response is in part due to the incredible excitement and buzz around our events, and in part due to the nature of the campaign. Similar dollar matching type campaigns have been attempted on Facebook, but usually people have to ‘like’, or otherwise interact with the sponsors. I believe that the fact that Free The Children is leading this project is contributing to people’s excitement and willingness to spread the message.

Besides the money from sponsors, has the Facebook page had any other effect on We Day, like increasing the number of volunteers or global awareness?

The Facebook page is bringing a whole new set of users to watch our webcasts, videos, and other media. It has really improved how we attract volunteers and coordinate with them once they’re signed up. The plan for the page is to use it as a platform to spread awareness and support our campaigns, which encourage youth to take action on local and global issues.

What do you see for the future of We Day in terms of social media? How about non-profit use of social media more generally?

We know that young people are spending more of their time communicating and interacting with their peers on social media. Free The Children campaigns and events like We Day are increasingly being designed to be effectively communicated – amplified – by social media. A good example of our future in social media is our upcoming Vow of Silence, a campaign which asks people to “go silent” for 24 hours in solidarity with those of who have been ‘silenced’ by poverty. The campaign began by asking participants not to speak for 24 hours. When last year, we expanded this to no talking, texting, tweeting, or any communication online, the campaign’s popularity exploded.

Non-profits are perfect candidates to benefit from the proper usage of social media because of its power to spread a message with a relatively small investment in time and money. The non-profits that succeed in this space will need a strong vision and will have to challenge themselves creatively, but the ease at which non-profits can find and be found by the people who will most passionately support and organization and advocate for a cause is unprecedented.