Americans know how to give, and in this day and age of social media we are identifying countless ways to better support nonprofits and cause related issues. Take for example, this video (with more than 1 million views already) for GE's "Tag Your Green" contest. The campaign encourages people to suggest eco-friendly ideas through online multimedia sites in an effort to get people to rethink how to be green. As programs such as this one highlight the potential of social media for social good, we see how the application of social media is creating a shift within the American service culture.
What Do the Numbers Show?
The Corporation for National and Community Service released a report earlier this year showing the largest increase in volunteering in the last six years. Despite the economic downturn and other hardships of 2009, 63.4 million Americans—of which 10.8 million were Millennials—volunteered with an official service organization. Cumulative efforts totaled more than 8.1 billion hours of service that was worth an estimated $169 billion. The top four service activities reported by respondents included: fundraising, collecting/distributing food, providing general labor or transportation, and teaching or tutoring—in that order.
Noticeably absent from this volunteer report is any reference to online service, acts and support. What would a breakdown of contributions look like if social media and online activities were included in the survey? I can understand why they aren’t referenced in this particular report though, for there are still many questions and validation issues with which to contend. I can’t imagine however, that these benchmarks are too far down the road...
It's a Question of Value
Aside from the quantitative value of social media, we must also look at how these acts might be weighted when it comes to evaluation metrics. Ask yourself… Does downloading a cause’s Twibbon to my Twitter profile photo or “donating” my Facebook status to a nonprofit’s message for a day constitute service? What about a $5 donation to a cause via text, is that person a donor or a philanthropist? Does checking in at a volunteer event via Gowalla make my support any more important of valuable than that of someone who is standing right next to me, but chooses not to use the location-based application?
Essentially, how should we classify these new forms of action and are they creating a positive change? Are these examples of activism 2.0, or just more forms of slacktivsm as referenced in a previous Social Citizens post?
It’s difficult to say how these new applications will ultimately impact and shape the service sector. One thing is clear though, we are moving beyond the integration of social media tools into an existing campaign and towards the creation of full-fledged, independent social media campaigns that place value on the individual’s online “service” and “contribution” to an issue. This is of particular relevance when looking at how best to inspire citizen-led engagement among the Millennial generation and digital natives.
Here are several examples of creative campaigns and initiatives that focus on acts of service online:
Tag Your Green: GE is hosting a multimedia eco-challenge unlike any other to encourage people to think of “green” in an entirely new way.
- Photo: In partnership with Flickr, GE invites people to upload photos representing water, light or wind. The best part is, in return for your photo, GE will donate a form of energy to a group in need.
- Video: As part of GE's ecomagination campaign, Howcast invited some of the most popular YouTube stars to get develop innovative “eco-themed” videos challenging viewers to submit creative green ideas that the stars could bring to life and tape. The goal is for the videos to reach a combined 10 million views and inspire viewers to rethink how to be green. The program will benefit charity: water, a nonprofit that brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.
One Tweet or Text at a Time: The Case Foundation partnered with Twitter, Malaria No More and TwitPay earlier this year in honor of World Malaria Day. Simply by retweeting a message with specific hashtags (including #endmalaria) or by texting a special code, tweeters could make a $10 donation to Malaria No More. In addition, when you added these special hashtags to your tweets, it would trigger the addition of a clickable mosquito icon to further raise awareness about this life threatening issue.
Cat Nap with Friends for a Cause: Purina Cat Chow recently invited consumers to visit its Facebook page, become a Fan and register to take a “cat nap” with their cat to raise awareness for breast cancer. For every registered “napper,” Purina made a $2 donation (up to $150,000), to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
I see the rise in popularity of social media as a wonderfully effective tool for nonprofits that will never replace traditional forms of civic engagement or acts of service. Instead, these evolving applications offer us a new standard for service engagement that will help reshape the identity of the modern day social citizen.
What do you think about the trends focusing on online engagement in service? Does this shift in our culture take away from or help traditional campaigns? What value do you place on online campaigns?