Using social media for change: What’s awareness without action?


For the last few weeks I’ve been working on the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s ‘I Participate’ campaign. Having worked with several non-profits, I’ve found they face a similar challenge. While raising awareness for a cause, issue or initiative was vital, getting people to actually do something was the real challenge.

It’s been my experience that raising awareness is a 5-year-old problem. If anything, people using social media are inundated with messaging about causes on facebook, twitter and other platforms. Even those not using social media are surrounded by advertisements and celebrities championing their respective causes.

Yet no amount of website “hits” or signatures brings about the concrete, real world change we desperately need. Is it realistic to expect the majority of people to change their behavior enough to get the results we need? Or rather, should the purpose of new technology be re-framed so that it’s goal is to achieve the better results without people having to change?

Obviously these are early days for social media and its true efficiency and potential is far from defined. Yet there seems to be an important leap to be made between the arms-length distance of online communications and the brick-and-mortar reality of quantifiable change.

Re-purposed advertising may bridge that gap, or a hybrid of real world and online communication. Or perhaps, shifts in behavior of the scale we need won’t occur until the crises we face are so urgent that our self-interest has to be re-framed as an extension of the greater good.

The catalyst for this post was a conversation I had today with a friend and colleague who is leaving for Copenhagen to serve as a consultant to the Global Green – the global climate change summit attended by heads of state and experts alike. Once again, the best and brightest are putting their hearts and shoulders behind meaningful work and looking to new media tools to facilitate their cause. The greatest challenge they face? Not raising awareness but getting people to take action.

Have you tried to used social media to inspire action? What was your experience?