Countless examples exist across all social media platforms of non-profit organizations and community movements using the Internet to not only get their message out, but to use social media to unify people across the country and internationally to take action. Below are several examples:
Example 1: Facebook
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals uses their Facebook page to encourage involvement in many ways. They post videos of cats and dogs that are up for adoption through the Humane Society and other shelters, calling on their followers to help the animals find a home, either by adopting themselves, or simply sharing the videos with their networks to spread the word. They also call for direct action, such as signing a pledge to fight puppy mills by boycotting any pet stores that sell puppies. They also use the Facebook page to share inspiring news stories that align with their followers’ interests.
The Livestrong Facebook page shares information on Livestrong events across the country, including fundraising activities that help fund cancer research, shares links to relevant news articles about cancer prevention, and provides a place for cancer survivors to share their stories and inspire others.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Facebook page provides the latest information on advances in Type 1 Diabetes research, and allows people to share their stories, and tell why they support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The page also tracks developments in legislation that affect diabetes research and the JDRF, such as votes on funding.
Children's Foundation of Mid-America
The Children’s Foundation of Mid-America is an organization in Missouri that provides social, psychological, and educational services to children and families. The organization uses their Facebook page to share news stories that can help improve children’s lives, such as an examination of why kids drop out of school, or why children bully and how to end the cycle. They also share information about local events, and encourage people to share their stories.
The “Occupy Wall Street” Movement
Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1500 cities globally, and a large part of the success of the movement has been the use of social media. Throughout the movement, the Facebook page has been used to share information about where Occupy movements were taking place across the country and even the globe and to share encouragement in the form of quotes from civil disobedience activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. Participants in the Occupy rallies would post pictures and videos to the Facebook page or write on the page’s wall to share their experiences.
Example 2: Twitter
The “Occupy Wall Street” Movement
Twitter was also a big part of the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy participants used tweets to tell people where to gather, share up-to-the-minute news of what was happening at Occupy events across the nation, share inspiring quotes, even post pictures of what they were experiencing.
Arab Spring Cairo 2011
Perhaps the earliest demonstration of how much social media could influence and strengthen a movement was the Arab Spring in 2011. In late 2010, a man in Tunisia burned himself to death in protest at his treatment by police, and protests quickly spread across Tunisia in solidarity. After several weeks of protesting, the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben was removed from power, and a movement had begun. Protests began in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Social media played a vital role in these movements - Twitter provided a way to quickly communicate where protests were taking place, and reach large numbers of people at once. And in these areas where journalism was often censored, foreign journalists were not welcome, and the information that reached the global community was often controlled by the government, Twitter provided a way for protestors to share their unfiltered experiences with the world, and helped capture international attention and support. And even after the protests waned, the example of social media’s power to help effect change stayed in people’s minds. An Egyptian blogger and Twitter user, Mahmoud Salem (@SandMonkey) decided to use the power of Twitter to help a local non-profit organization to raise funds to offer basic services in an impoverished neighborhood of Cairo. Ezbet Khairalla is one of the largest unplanned communities in Egypt, with a population close to 650,000 inhabitants, and lacking most basic services; not only sewage and garbage collection, but also inadequate education, poor health and social services. Mahmoud Salem partnered with an organization already working in the area, Peace and Plenty, to raise funds for the community. Salem called his initiative “tweetback” (@tweetbackevent), and it relied on the social capital of 20 of power-Twitter users who collectively have around a quarter of a million followers. They each raised money from donors in exchange for giving contributing companies PR among their followers. They raised EGP 2 million Egyptian pounds (over $330,000 US dollars) as well as awareness for the community.
Avoiding gang violence in Veracruz, Mexico
In Mexico, Twitter is vital to many citizens, but for a different reason than the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street – for those movements, Twitter provided a way to unify people across geographic areas and spur change. In Mexico, Twitter has become an important tool for simply getting through the day safely. In areas ravaged by cartel violence, Twitter is often used to provide real-time information about dangerous locations to avoid. But this innovative use of Twitter is not without drawbacks – public officials believe that if such messages contain false information, they can spread public panic for no reason, sometimes creating problems where there were none. But others argue that drug cartels often successfully enforce information blackouts at the local level by intimidating the police and reporters, and that decentralized methods of communication such as Twitter are the only way to effectively get information out to keep people safe.
Example 3: Change.org
Change.org is a social action platform where anyone can start a petition about an issue they feel passionate about. Change.org provides a guide for getting started, with examples of past petitions. The website has several categories that they consider “Top Causes” – animals, criminal justice, economic justice, education, environment, gay rights, health, human rights, human trafficking, immigrant rights, sustainable food, and women’s rights. One of the most successful recent petitions was started by the parents of Trayvon Martin, calling for a full-fledged investigation in the case, as well as the arrest of the acknowledged shooter, George Zimmerman.
Example 4: Petitions
iPetitions is another website that allows users to create their own petitions. A recent successful petition was A Call for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai for the Immediate Release of Gulnaz. In 2009, Gulnaz, an 18-year old girl in Afghanistan, was raped, impregnated as a result of the rape, and subsequently put in prison for adultery. Gulnaz (who was a virgin and unmarried) was raped by her cousin’s husband. She and her baby daughter, who was born in prison, had been imprisoned for almost two years when the petition was created. The petition helped bring international attention to the situation, and in December 2011, Gulnaz was released.
Example 5: MoveOn.org
MoveOn.org Civic Action is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, set up in 2001, that has raised over $20 million dollars, all in small dollar contributions. Moveon.org works with allies and other non-profit organizations to build a strong, unified voice, with campaigns on a variety of issues. And when Oxfam America, an international relief organization, requested donations for food aid for Iraq, MoveOn.org raised over $500,000 in less than a month by simply sending out a message to the folks on its e-mail list asking them to contribute online. Browse MoveOn.org's current campaigns.
Example 6: Tumblr
A hybrid of ordinary blogging platforms, such as Typepad or Wordpress, and of the microblogging site Twitter, Tumblr gives users the ability to post photos, videos and messages and share with people they don’t know. We Are the 99 Percent is a blog prompted by the Occupy Wall Street movement that allows people to share their stories – about homes being foreclosed on, medical bills that pile up, poor job security, etc., and support the Occupy movement.
Example 7: Foursquare
Foursquare is essentially a social city guide with the ability to recommend places based on your activity, that of your friends and other foursquare users. You use your phone to “check in” at different places you visit, from bars and restaurants to parks, museums, etc. But your account can also help you find and mobilize a base of willing volunteers and donors. For example, Big Love Little Hearts, an organization which helps children in developing countries with heart defects, raised $25K in just 24 hours by getting a donor to contribute $1 when someone checked in with Foursquare or tweeted using the hashtag #100by100. The money raised was enough to pay for 12 heart surgeries.
Example 8: Integrated Social Media
Organizing Bone Marrow Drives using Facebook, Google Docs, and YouTube
When Stanford graduate Sameer Bhatia and his friend Vinay were diagnosed with leukemia, they decided to use social media and the vast reach of the internet to fight the disease. Doctors said the odds of a bone marrow match were 1 in 20,000, so they used web services like Facebook, Google Docs, and YouTube to mobilize and empower others to organize bone marrow drives all over the country. In 11 weeks, Sameer and Vinay’s supporters registered 24,611 South Asians into the bone marrow registry and found a match for both. And the 7,500 people they registered in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Sameer lived, yielded 80 matches for other leukemia patients. Both Sameer and Vinay received transplants, but tragically, both passed away some months later, succumbing to AML. The changes they effected did not end with their deaths, however. The potential lives saved in the past two years because of the 24,611 South Asians now in the registry numbers over 250.
2008 Campaign: Obama's Social Media Advantage
The 2008 Presidential election was unique in many ways, one of which was the influence and power of social media. There are many articles that explore how social media may have strengthened Barack Obama’s campaign by helping him connect to voters on a more personal level. By using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread his message, he created a sense of connection and engagement among his followers. Grassroots movements and local community organizations were instrumental in getting out the vote, fundraising, even creating their own Youtube videos, tweets, and Facebook posts to show their support. In other words, the online movement was powerful enough to create offline engagement.
Example 9: The Food Babe's Integrated Approach
In February 2014, Food Babe Vani Hari (of foodbabe.com) mobilized an army of supporters to successfully petition Subway to stop using “azodicarbonamide (ADA)” in their breads. ADA is a chemical compound found in plastics, synthetic leather, and ceramics. Her integrated approach included a blog post, video, petitions on her website, twitter appeals integrating the hashtag #NoWaySubway, and a Facebook page.
This video shows how the Colorado State Department of Transportation utilized the popularity of Snapchat to send the message of seatbelt safety to high school students state-wide. Using Snapchat as the form of communication provided students with an easy and fun way to become advocates for seatbelt safety. Due to this, the campaign was able to grow and reach 16,000 students.