At SXSW, I participated in the "Social Media for Social Good BBQ" co-hosted by Jeff Pulver and Porter Novelli. The other panelists included David Armano, Scott Goodstein, Stacey Monk, James Young and Randi Zuckerberg.
More than 700 people RSVPed to the event, far more than the capacity of Stubbs BBQ. This is yet another indication of the growing interest in the charity sector at SXSWi.
The panel represented different points of view. The first three panelists, including myself, spoke about the using social media for fundraising from the perspective of an individual leveraging their network. I spoke about creating a culture of authentic generosity in your network, Stacey Monk talked about her organization, Epic Change, and Tweetsgiving Campaign, and David Armano talked about how social media is strengthening weak ties and how he leveraged his network to help a woman named Daniella.
The next three panelists spoke about the topic from the institution and campaign perspective. James Young talked about how nonprofits are using these tools for campaigns, Randi Zuckerberg gave an overview of Facebook and nonprofit activity and Scott Goodstein shared his experience from the Obama Campaign.
The panel format was conversational. We each spoke for five minutes and answered the question, "What surprised you about social media for social good?" Then audience questions. In retrospect, I wish I had used my five minutes to contextualize.
While I was on the stage, I was monitoring Twitter hashtag #socialgood. The audience represented a wide range: activists with expertise in using social media and mobile phones, pr agencies, staff members responsible for social media strategy from large nonprofits organizations, social entrepreneurs, and people who were new to the whole idea.
Some people in the room were frustrated because the discussion focused on social media for charity and did not include social media for social change. Twitter comments included:
- @Katrinskaya : #socialgood panel. Fundraising is great but what abt engagement and action?
- @unikrm need more substance and more sustainable and transparent action for #socialgood to do any good
Defining the phrase "social media for social good"
That phrase is used to describe social media campaigns implemented by individuals, nonprofits, and corporations to accomplish different objectives. These objectives broadly include those with financial objectives - fundraising and marketing and objectives focused on social change.
Here's a few examples of the latter that were mentioned on the Twitter stream.
- Peta uses Twitter to encourage Zappos to stop selling fur products
- Information Age Volunteerism from The Extraordinaries
- Unicef's Rapid SMS
Nonetheless, in reflection, I wonder: Is it time to stop using the phrase "social media for social good" when we're talking about the use of social media for charity? Or should we simply just call fundraising and charity? This debate and others should be explored further.
The term "social good" implies that there is social impact, a change of behavior on the ground or systemic change. So, perhaps some in the audience were concerned that "Social Media for Social Good" is not accurate and falls into "feel good fluff" when what we were talking about was using social media for charity, not change.
I think there is some indirect social impact when we use social media for charity. It happens through the organization that receives the funding. Of course, it depends on the capacity of the organization and its programs. Obviously this isn't systemic, societal change.
Some feel that "nice social media" isn't effective and that we should be focusing on real social change. "Do Gooders," "Feel Good Marketing", and "Nicey Nicey Social Networks" irk social change activists using social media.
Lina Srivastava says much better:
As a sector, we still have work to do to clarify the distinction between charity and social good/systemic change. The "Social Media for Social Good" panel, in particular, led off with stories of fundraising and good deeds on behalf of individuals, as opposed to scalable social change. I'm not making a value judgment against fundraising here (had they titled the panel "Social Media for Fundraising," I would have had less of a problem with the focus-- though I will continue to argue the prevailing system of fundraising needs a major overhaul). But I and a few other attendees later voiced the view that charity is an entry point, not an endpoint, in sustainable social change.
I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at the landscape of social media and charity:
These are campaigns undertaken by a person, a wired fundraiser, who leverages their social connections to raise money for another person or a nonprofit. We've seen campaigns launched by everyday people as well as by social media influencers.
Human to human charity using social media is where an individual reaches out to people they're connected to online to raise money to help someone else. We're seeing more human to human charity driven by social media and the bad economy.
Random acts of kindness are not unique to social media. Turn on the evening news and watch the human interest segment on the nightly news (Making A Difference) and there are story and after story about people helping their neighbors, strangers helping strangers.
In the 1930's during the Great Depression, people reached for help via letters. Social media and social networks simply allows us to take this behavior online and do it faster. Social networks let ask people for help who we haven't necessarily met face-to-face. As David Armano said during the panel, our connectedness lets us strengthen loose ties. His Daniella story is an example as is the story of Hollis Hawthrone and probably countless others.
Another examples is "Free Agent" fundraiser, someone who is using social media to reach out to their social network to ask for money to support a nonprofit. They are either fans of a particular charity or volunteers serving on the board. I've experimented with this approach to raise money for the Sharing Foundation where I am a board member. There are many others like Drew Olenoff and Paull Young.
Stacey Monk's Tweetsgiving and her organization, EpicChange, is an example of an individual or social entrepeneur raising "seed capital" through social media to implement programs with a social good purpose.
There are social network applications designed to facilitate free agent fundraisers, for example Facebook Causes Birthday Campaign and some of the earlier experiments over at Social Actions. The Case Foundation's America's Giving Challenge and Make It Your Own were designed to encourage participation from individuals on behalf of organizations.
On the Twitter stream during the session, there were differences of opinion as to whether this type of fundraising can bring about social change in the real world:
- jaybaer: @armano - Social media helps strengthen loose ties, which can then be used for social change
- benrigby: #socialgood using social media to raise $ for more social media fundraising campaigns doesn't get us too far...
- jordanv: Real change *always* starts with individuals and that's what we are seeing now #socialgood
James Young, who works for Convio and was on the panel writes:
I came away from the experience with a clear message, that it all starts with one person deciding to act. If one person acts to help another, then at least two people know about it. If social media tools are involved, then the chances are good that a lot more people know about it, and the chances are equally good that the message will be passed on at least a few more times in ever expanding circles.
These are online fundraising campaigns branded and implemented by professional staff at nonprofit organizations and use social media. These organizations typically have a paid staff member (not necessarily full-time) implementing the tactics. While there are some exceptional examples (see the examples from the Social Media ROI Panel at SXSW) , effective use of social meida in the nonprofit sector is not widespread.
Social media strategies are part of multi-channel campaigns. A recent example is the Humane Society's Spa Day Photo Contest which raised over $600,000. Another example is the campaign Holly Ross, at NTEN, just finished to raise $10,000 for NTC scholarships using social media tools and a lot of her personality.
Networked fundraising is where many individuals leveraging their personal networks to make a donation to a charity and in some cases it is self-organizing. Twestival is the most famous example. It was a networked fundraiser of a scale we haven't seen before, raising over $250,000 from over 200 cities around the world via Twitter. As my colleague David J. Neff from the America Cancer Society quipped during our panel at SXSW, "Twitter meetups just to meet are so 2008. We want to meet up and do something with more purpose than just have a few beers."
I described the Twestival as "Look Out Here Comes Everybody To Raise Money for charity:water on Twitter" with a wink to Clay Shirky's work. This raised some interesting discussions among nonprofits about networked fundraising, namely "Are Groundswell Fundraisers A Distraction or Opportunity?"
I had a chance to meet Twestival's founder, Amanda Rose at SXSW and chat with her. Last month, I did a reflection interview after the event with her to discover what worked and what didn't. Amanda organized the event as a volunteer and she is looking at the next version of the Twestival.
What makes Twestival unique is that it didn't start as a project of charity:water, the nonprofit that benefited. I wonder if we will see more of these self-organizing campaigns or will the next reteriation be a nonprofit organization powering a groundswell.
Corporate Campaigns That Use Social Media
Given the bad economy, generosity is replacing corporate greed. Or maybe just as a marketing strategy. A recent report called "Generosity Generation," suggests there is a societal shift to more open and sharing behaviors. Or maybe an opportunity to make money. It goes on to say that corporations and businesses should become "caring brands."
Can a caring brand be authentic and have on the ground social impact? Perhaps only social business might:
- benrigby: @jsteig #socialgood re: for-profits for social good. have been looking deep into this - Yunus is inspiration. http://tinyurl.com/b7e98h
- benrigby: Yunus defines a "social business" which is a for profit - doesn't rely on donations/funding. http://tinyurl.com/cj48bk
We are now seeing corporate sponsorship of an event or program or marketing campaigns that use social media and also generate donations for the nonprofit. Not surprisingly, these campaigns help improve the reputation of the corporation or are designed to sell more products. These campaigns are undertaken by the corporate marketing department and/or outsourced to their marketing, PR, or cause marketing agency. The nonprofit is the recipient of this largess. (To follow the field of cause-related marketing, read the "What You Stand For" blog.)
I suspect with the economy and the generosity driver, we will many more of these to come. We're still in the emerging stage. Some early examples have used the comments on blogs to generate product donations. The next wave of experiments have taken their cues from the nonprofit sector and incorporated contests and competitions as well as getting influencers to leverage their networks in the hopes of unleashing a groundswell.
Right before SXSW, Tide launched a campaign that benefited a charity, Feeding America. The idea was to get a group of social media influencers to reach out to their networks to purchase a $20 t-shirt with the Tide logo and a percentage of the proceeds would go towards disaster relief efforts should they happen. Here's David Armano's blog post asking his network to pass along the $20 for a t-shirt for a cause.
Those who participated reflected on their key takeaways. Here's a roundup of their reactions and others including this critique called "The Feel Good Social Marketing Bribe." I wonder if this law suit over the harmful ingredients in the detergent has any connection to this campaign? As David Armano mentioned during the Panel's Q&A we'll see more corporate cause-related marketing campaigns using social media and leverage influencer networks. But will they truly benefit nonprofits?
On the Twitter stream during out panel, there were concerns about transparency and corporate responsibility:
- geogeller: @jeffpulver what are the tradeoffs and check lists in doing #socialgood - not all good is good for everybody - what are red flags to watch
- geogeller: @jeffpulver ? what is #socialgood how do we know who its good for? investigate pple tell truth & not hidding an agenda socialgood tradeoffs
- @wtd RTweet - makes sense- transparency needs to go hand-in-hand with any kind of #socialgood campaign
And, of course, if economy continues to falter, we might see companies acquire their venture capital in the way that nonprofits ask for funding.
The idea of many corporations using "social good" to sell their products makes me wonder how much faster we'll see a backlash and whether this will spillover into donor fatigue for nonprofits and their own fundraising campaigns. I'm probably over stretching here.
One of the questions that was asked at the BBQ panel was, "How do we avoid cause fatigue?" The person had no doubt read Jill Finlayson and Hildy Gottlieb's post at Socialedge which talks about all the requests we're all getting to support issues, causes, and charities and asks aren't you tired?
I don't think we can avoid it. It's a new form of Internet overload. We don't have to respond to every request and the ones we respond to should be part of a giving strategy. Allison Fine offers some more advice:
... is to go back to basics: building strong relationships with your supporters. For all of the pinging and poking and clicking and razzle dazzle of cause chatter, social change continues to happen through social connections. For causes it is more important than ever that they focus on how to strengthen those ties, with and without social media, online and on land, to support their efforts. This year, in particular, social capital trumps financial capital - so we better get to building it one person, one connection, one conversation at a time.
In the Twitter Stream during the panel BBQ, some great advice suggested:
- NurtureGirl: Checkbook charity via social networks is SO not strategic giving. What if a cause is not on my map of social change.
- NurtureGirl: Hmm message to nonprofit->learn to market. Message to donors->don't be fooled by marketing: be strategic and look for impact
What's your take?
- When is social media actually useful for advancing change -- as opposed to charity? What is the difference? And why is it important?
- Should stop using the phrase "Social Media for Social Good" if we're just talking about charity and fundraising?
- Does using social media to raise money charity or fundraising for nonprofits have any intent for social good or should we simply called it fundraising and marketing?
- Does "feel good" social media help or hinder social change, real impact on the ground?
- What are the best examples of social media for social good that have real, on the ground social impact?