Tuesday, July 9, 2013

'Liking' your way to impact

Social Media is a powerful tool; it has the ability to sway public opinion and shed light on issues that would otherwise never see the light of day: Kony 2012 anyone?

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, donations to the charitable sector stood at 2% of the gross domestic product and posited that if everyone gave up a morning coffee, $220-billion more could go to charity on a yearly basis. Easy, direct, and something that won't break the bank...but we're not doing it...why?

Because social media, has created a "new" way for individuals to feel like they're making a difference-through likes and retweets. The buffer that the social media sphere has created insulates many from actually doing...as a result, liking something on Facebook or getting something retweeted is the new way of defining impact...what I don't understand is, how can you claim impact when a 'like' doesn't really do anything.

While exposure to a message is good, as Unicef so cleverly illustrates, it means nothing if there is no action to back it up. The awareness generating machine that is social media can quickly create exposure for a cause or group (Kony/Invisible Children), however, the goal of the charitable sector is creating impact and change, and that can only be accomplished through action, and likes or retweets aren't designed to do that.

So why, if likes and the social currency generated from them, are doing little to actually advance the missions of charitable organizations, is so much time and energy being placed on getting more of them? When you read about the US State Dept spending $630,000 on Facebook likes, it makes you wonder, to what end? Are those likes influencing foreign policy? Do they really matter? Couldn't that money have been better spent elsewhere?

Some social media campaigns like tweetathons, or text to give, when successful, generate revenue, a clear cause and effect relationship that enables groups to continue carrying out their mission. The success stories while few and far between offer a foundation upon which growth and lessons learned can be derived from. However, with the ubiquity of social media, taking a stand no longer means sticking your neck out and running the risk of being associated with an issue by attending a protest, rally, community meeting, etc...it means changing your profile picture to this:

While supporting issues you believe is important, and social media enables broad exposure, what are you actually doing? Are you writing your congressperson? Are you donating money to support the causes that align with your societal views? Are you Volunteering your time to causes that make you warm and fuzzy? My guess is no...and therein lies the problem.

Social media is making it so that everyone is a brand, and how we market our brand has become more important than what we stand for. As Nilofer Merchant, from the Harvard Business Review so succinctly puts it: "Your Brand is the Exhaust Fume of the Engine of Your Life." 

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