Doing Good With Social Media

Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

The power of social media and its influences – whether for good or not – continues on an almost daily basis to evoke laughter or tears, thought, and in some cases a call to order.

Over the years I’ve been truly amazed by both the growth in social media, but also by the many, many creative ways individuals have embraced the “technology” and have – in their own way – made something unique. What’s most inspiring is how some have “done good” with their social media presence.

My earliest recognition of the power of social media for philanthropic activities came several years ago in my work with the Run for the Cure Foundation – a non-profit whose mission it is to eradicate breast cancer in Japan as a life-threatening disease through education, timely screening, and treatment. While mediums like Facebook and Twitter were virtually non-existent in Japan at the time, we were successful through a blogging and online viral marketing program to drive interest and fundraising activity across the nation through both a time and cash efficient approach. The Foundation continues to expand its online presence, and interest and funding continues to rise – a clear testament to the fact that social media for “doing good” truly works.

But in the end, this is naturally no surprise. Provided that the message is targeted to the right audience, and you can capture their interest with information that is appealing, an online approach is almost guaranteed to work. Perhaps that’s a gross generalization, but the fact is we’ve witnessed this time and time again with organizations around the world that have leveraged their online and offline presence to affect change in their local markets, and in every other location where an Internet connection is available.

What’s most compelling to me however, is not the ability of corporations or NGO’s to influence positive change – no matter the mission – but the power of the individual, the power of one.

In my return to Twitter in November, I was virtually introduced, by pure happenstance, to a Mr. Benjamin Bach who lives and works in Canada. Benjamin was hosting a Movember campaign through Twitter, and I was intrigued by all of the discussion around the idea and Benjamin’s work on the project. Shortly thereafter I found myself involved in the conversation, and before I knew it, I was happily bidding on a Movember charity auction, all in the name of prostate cancer awareness. Days later, after a ferocious Twitter-based bidding war, I ultimately lost the auction, but decided to offer the cash I had pledged anyway, for two core reasons. My grandfather would have turned 100 years old on the same day the auction concluded had prostate cancer not put to rest a handsome and loving man 23 years earlier. This alone was reason enough for me to remember my grandfather in this way by helping others be more aware of the testing and treatment options for this terrible disease. But I was also overwhelmingly amazed at how one person could build such recognition for an extremely important cause, using the power of an online tool and his group of followers. At the end of the day, the charity auction was the teaser, but the cause was the true incentive. And as I scoured the net for more activities of this kind, I was immediately struck by how much closer together our world is becoming.

Two weeks ago I made reference to the now very well-known Ted Williams story – a homeless man down on his luck, but with a voice so resonant your very being quivers with the richness of his spoken words.

A sidenote before continuing – I know there are countless other homeless people that continue to struggle on our streets, most of whom are also in need of more luck, and lack a special talent like Mr. Williams’. I also know that drugs and alcohol, and a short-lived but existent life of crime plagued his past. But, as far as I’m concerned, everyone is deserving of a second chance. This post doesn’t serve to heighten the discussion of Mr. Williams’ past – or future – but what has occurred to him over the past several weeks is a clear example of how the idea of one person can create resounding change.

One Columbus, Ohio reporter posted just one YouTube clip of Williams and barely two weeks later, the video had been viewed more than 10 million times.

In five days, Williams was on The Early Show and the Today show. He received job offers from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken, Kraft, and MSNBC. Dreams of a new life suddenly became absolute reality, and it appears that Williams is on his way to new successes and what hopefully will be complete recovery. But this isn’t just about one man’s wayward journey that has been hopefully and helpfully guided back on course by a reporter who introduced Williams to us. The story has raised awareness of homelessness across our country and around our world. One reporter asked Williams about what we should take from his experiences. He responded with character and sincerity, essentially reminding us all – as I said in my previous post – about the metaphorical book and its cover. And so no matter what your thoughts are of Mr. Williams, we’ve all learned a valuable lesson. Many of us have had checkered pasts, but that shouldn’t necessarily dictate our futures.

I followed Ted Williams for days. And predictably the negative stories came quickly on the heels of all the positives. And then on January 8, and the days that followed, Ted Williams was all but forgotten – at least in the media. Scores around the world were shocked by the news that a young man named Jared Loughner had sprayed a crowd with bullets, critically injuring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, including a young child. Sadness and fear abounded – it continues to this day.

In the days that followed the proverbial talking heads began to appear – and then the gun lobby reared its head. And suddenly the press and the online communities were no longer abuzz with talk of what had happened, but of the politics of the situation. The continued insistence that gun control is unnecessary and the suggestion that had everyone been armed this would not have happened (incidentally – there was news of another armed man who came to the scene to help the victims, only to aim his weapon at the wrong person, almost turning a tragedy into an even greater one), the unveiling of the world’s largest gun show in Las Vegas just days later, and perhaps most appalling – the news that Glock sales were up in the aftermath of the Arizona Shooting.

And in my real concern that the media frenzy had simply forgotten about all of the victims – I came across this Sam Tsui and AHMIR tribute/cover.

And in less than a week nearly 1.5 million people were reminded that this story isn’t just about the second amendment or a gun in the hands of the wrong person. This story is about Gabrielle Giffords, Christina Taylor, Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman, John Roll, and Phyllis Schneck. We must remember tragedies of this kind so that we ensure that there isn’t another one. Senseless violence occurs daily, but together we can put a stop to the madness.

Perhaps social media is a part of the answer. It brings us together, and it ensures that the stories worth being told, are actually being told. It is increasingly becoming a part of our modern fabric, and in these examples and many others, it creates the opportunities to do good, to remember, to generate enormous awareness, no matter our geographic location.

In the words of Lennon…

You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.