Why You Need to Get on the Social Media Bandwagon

This past weekend I presented a workshop to social activists in Phoenix about how to incorporate social media into their activism strategy. I knew even before the workshop that this was going to get a mixed reception, since this particular organization doesn’t have a website, let alone social media accounts. However, I fully believe in the power of social media, both for businesses and nonprofits to be able to connect with their target audiences. So when I received the invitation to speak to this group, I accepted.

Before the discussion even got started, one audience member stated her concern about internet privacy and said that she would never get on Facebook because she’s concerned about identity theft. I politely redirected the focus and kept my rants about the intrusion on civil liberties to myself. But here’s some info to chew on: you have no privacy. Every phone call you make, every e-mail you send, and every book you check out from the library is being monitored by the government thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act. Google it – and bear in mind that Google will store a record of your search.  Next time you see a photo radar camera, think about your lack of privacy. Whether you get involved with social media or not, you don’t have any expectation of privacy. So unless you want to wear a tinfoil hat and live in your basement for the rest of your days, you may as well get over your fear of government intrusion. Because let’s face it . . . even after your corpse is buried under six feet of dirt, the government probably has ways to intrude upon your rest in peace, too.

Now . . . back to the discussion of why you need to get on board with social media, and what you can do to start cracking that nut.

Social media can be summarized as internet and mobile-based tools that allow people to interact with and share information. There are many forms of social media available, but for the purposes of this article, I am going to limit my discussion to the following three tools: blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. If your business or organization is new to social media, it’s best to tackle these three avenues first, because of the popularity of these tools, as well as the many resources that are available to help you maximize the investment that you put into social media.

The power of social media’s reach is overwhelming. Facebook is the most visited website on the internet, and 88% of American adults use Facebook on a regular basis. Twitter’s popularity is gaining traction as well, and 87% of American adults know about Twitter. With the growth of the smart phone market, social media’s reach is becoming even more powerful. In 2010, 38% of cell phone users owned a smart phone. By the end of 2011, 50% of cell phone users will own a smart phone. If this trend continues, I would venture to guess that 80-90% of cell phone users will be using a smart phone by the end of 2012.

Just think about that for a minute. All of these users have constant access to the internet. This means that they use social media twice as much as people without a smart phone. If you’re not reaching out to people on social media, you are missing a valuable opportunity to communicate your message.

As far as activism is concerned, let me give you two examples of how social media has been used to galvanize a quick activist response. When the Stupak Amendment was introduced to the health care reform bill in 2009, online activists utilized social media to collect 80,000 signatures in opposition to Stupak in matter of only three days. In February, Walks for Choice were coordinated around the globe simply by using social media. These events took three weeks to successfully coordinate, where the March for Women’s Lives that was held in 2004 took nearly a full calendar year to coordinate. Regardless of how you define your activism, those are impressive results.

By utilizing social media, you can guide the message.  Share links to media articles that shape the debate surrounding your issues.  Guide readers to your website, and help develop your expertise in the field.  Respond to elected officials who you feel have made poor decisions, or give a thumbs up to the folks you feel are doing a good job representing you.  You don’t have to live in Egypt to realize that social media has the ability to revolutionize the way we interact with each other.

If your business or nonprofit is thinking about getting on board with social media, what are your motivations to do so?  And what are some of the factors holding you back?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.


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