How can we and how are we using social media tools for social change? That’s the question that the monthly #4Change chats (that take place on Twitter) address, this month focusing on the Climate Change movement.  This was a very lively conversation, filled with examples and experiences from people involved in climate change organizations and campaigns leveraging social media in their work.  “Social media is all about moving people up the ladder of engagement” (@JeffM2001) and is designed “to inspire (and to have lasting effect)—build fields and bridges, not brands” (@tropology). These points and the full #4Change conversation are applicable to the Climate Change movement, but also to many social impact sectors and the campaigns reaching around the world.

So, what are the biggest lessons for using social media in a global movement?

There were three main lessons or focus areas that emerged in the discussion.  These three lessons focus on what is successful, unique or important about using social media for the Climate Change movement (or any social impact area).  Note: the @names provide links to the Twitter users who made specific comments, just in case you want to connect and continue the conversation!*

Lesson #1: Voice

“Social media is a storytelling tool, it’s let voices effected by climate change be heard around the world” (@amysampleward).  Many social media tools are specifically designed for users to tell stories and voice opinions, others are built as aggregators and distributors of users’ stories.  Think about a tool like YouTube, where people can share videos (uploaded and created in various ways from mobile phones to laptop computers to high quality cameras) and then find others who care about similar issues.  It is impossible to tell a story about someone else being affected by Climate Change as well as the authentic voice of the person who is living with Climate Change.

“I’m really interested in how people are starting & joining movements - and how they’re growing via people-powered social media!” (@engagejoe)

The power of social media and the authentic storytelling that takes place is in the opportunity for people to inspire other people to take action, which leads to lesson #2.

Lesson #2: Action

@HildyGottlieb asked a great question, “How many ppl think that by “following” a climate change guru, they’re creating change?” Her question spurred some interesting comments that targeting the idea of taking action.  Social media is still the tool or the medium, not the change or the action.  The challenge, then, is how to use the tools to effect change, “not just talk about change we want to see one day” (@replyforall).  The power of social media in this context, “is in networks growing and collaborating, not silo-ing” (@amysampleward) or “connecting/leveraging/magnifying the work of people who’re already aware” (@HildyGottlieb).

Another side of empowering action via social media is to focus on what hooks people in: “Social Media can only inspire ACTION when people EASILY see how their action a) is part of something bigger, b) makes a difference” (@SethHorwitz).  “People need choices of action, if they are listening to you they are more than likely interested in your cause / initiative” (@BeverleyPomeroy) so provide opportunities to take action; your supporters are ready!  As, @@JeffM2001 explains, “awareness of climate change is already very high, we need to raise awareness about what we can do about it.”

Lesson #3: Local vs Global

The final focus area is on the local vs global impact of social media.  With tools that let us connect in real-time to anywhere else in the world, it can be hard for us to streamline, focus, or even tell our stories in ways that makes sense to the audience.  It especially poses problems for campaigners looking to collaborate around the world and create meaningful opportunities to take action (someone in Taiwan may have a compelling story about Climate Change, but they may not respond or be empowered by a US legislative petition, for example).

“Real world movement needs to allow 3rd world (biggest victims) to take leadership” (@SethHorwitz.)  “The accumulation of climate conscious communities will slowly add to a big pay off. People don’t see ‘big picture’ but relate locally” (@kristianakocis).

The local issue also takes the shape of real people, connecting in person.  “Social Media can’t be a replacement for getting one-on-one commitments from people—we need faces in the movement, not Facebook newsfeeds” (@replyforall).  Linking in global messages or large-scale campaigns to “to offline events and opportunities across organizations/campaigns” (@amysampleward) can bring local communities into the mix and create more ownership for outcomes.

Examples of Social Media

There were many, many examples cited in the discussion.  Please follow the links to learn more as I’ve tried to pull out as many as I could:

Learn more about #4Change or review the full transcript.

*For transparency: I am @amysampleward in the above chat.

imageAmy Sample Ward’s passion for nonprofit technology has lead her to involvement with NTEN, NetSquared, and a host of other organizations. She shares many of her thoughts on nonprofit technology news and evolutions on her blog.