Two weeks ago week I was fortunate to travel to BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, where I spent a bit of time with fellow Explorers Jason Falls and Jordan Cooper (but missed meeting Tom Webster). It was my second BWE show and I really enjoyed meeting new people, re-energizing relationships, and, yes, gambling a little bit. (I lost, natch.)
The real winner of the weekend for me was a session I attended on “Using the Social Web To Fuel Real World Social Action.” I haven’t done a whole lot of social cause marketing, but attended the session to learn more about it and also because my friend Karen Bantuveris had promised me a “different kind of session” with an interactive game. I’m always looking for new teaching methods to integrate into my own client and training presentations, so I gave it a go.
The game was really engaging – we broke into three teams and each team had to reach out to their social networks to get others to take specific actions, and then the community members were to tweet back to us what they were pledging to do. [We were given the actions in advance – here’s the writeup on Karen’s blog.] We only had 20 minutes (and unfortunately, a really lousy WiFi/AT&T connection); there was a frenzy of typing and texting and Facebooking that didn’t let up throughout the entire time. I started out by DM-ing a few people on Twitter, asking them to take specific bigger (greater point) actions and tweet about it, but I quickly realized a few things:
- Twitter only works for immediate action if someone is watching their Twitter stream at that moment
- If you want to create lots of activity, you have go to big; working person-by-person is very time-consuming and won’t necessarily yield enough results
- However, if your network is not strong, going big also won’t yield results – you have to have real connections in your network to get action through non-personalized outreach
So I decided to send out a tweet on both of my accounts asking for one specific, smaller action. I quickly got a bunch of responses, though too little, too late – another team was far ahead and time was called on the game. I missed out on the fleecy sweatshirt prize from but gained a lot of knowledge about developing small actions to energize a community.
But shortly after the session, one of my friends/followers tweeted back to me, “But just saying that I will does not constitute “action” right? Is it about publicly (Twitter) committing to something?” I wrote back to say that this was a test, that a real-world scenario would be a link, perhaps, to a real action one could take. But soon after I wrote that I began to question my response.
Last week we were all made aware of Spirit Day, a day on which everyone was asked to wear purple to call attention to the recent suicides by gay teenagers. The media covered it widely and from what I understand, it was extremely popular in schools where the vast majority of purple-wearers were not gay. A similar question came up in a friend’s Facebook stream regarding this event: what good does wearing something do? Is it purely superficial?
After some thought on the social action game, and having seen the success of Wear Purple day, I’m realizing that social media pledges and real-world solidarity gestures (like wearing purple or pinning on a pink ribbon) are quite similar. Changing your avatar on Facebook means you support something. Wearing your favorite baseball team’s hat means you’re rooting for them. One person wrote on my friend’s Facebook wall, “it’s about giving voice” – making a public pledge, creating awareness, leading others to action. If you stand up or raise your hand for something you’re more likely to actually act on it yourself.
There are those who disagree with me, but I believe social media is a tool that can help create awareness and, hopefully, action. It is in the small gestures: putting your bra color in your Facebook status, tweeting #beatcancer, publicly pledging to recycle that can or bottle. While we shouldn’t discount its power or effectiveness, we also have to be careful not to misuse it, else that power will diminish.
P.S. The Real World Action Challenge, by Karen Bantuveris of VolunteerSpot, Jessica Kirkwood of Hands On Network, Kerala Taylor of KaBOOM and Robert Wolfe of Crowdrise, is a great game to use for social media training, cause-related or not. I’m sure they would welcome remixes; Tweet at them if you use it.