Social Media and Social Change

written by naehblog
September 28, 2010

Yesterday, my colleague Anna and I attended a workshop hosted by Ogilvy on the role of social media in government, “OGILVY 360 DI GOV 2.0 EXCHANGE: How Social Media Tools are Shaping Government, the 2010 Elections and Issue Campaigns.”

(Long, I know).

I’ve been to a number of workshops that discuss the ways different sectors can use social media: how to use social media for nonprofits, how to use social media for companies, how to use social media for yourself, and on and on and on.

For me, the central debate in these workshops is not the different way that the tools can be utilized (because really, that’s what these social media applications are, right? New communications tools?) but the principles guiding their use. Is the central goal of social media tools is to engage the public by giving them more access?

Put another way, I find myself asking “is more information better than less information?”

For me, the answer to the question is yes. When confronted by different philosophies of communications, I always hear C.J. Cregg’s (Allison Janney played White House Press Secretary turned Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg in the epic teleivion series, West Wing) immortal words ringing in my ears, “information breeds confidence; silence breeds fear.”

(And sometimes frustration.)

It’s the way it’s been here at the Alliance. As we cautiously make our way into the online universe – taking up only what we know we can manage – we have found a small but enthusiastic audience with which to share information. Larger still is the audience that cares about homelessness but has much more difficulty understanding the nuances and complexities of solving such a fraught social problem. And even larger is the audience that we miss – a recently usability test administered at our annual conference found that of the 15 randomly selected people who took our test, only 2 followed us on our social networks.

Social media is an art, it seems, and not a science.

The panelists at the Ogilvy workshop – including Ari Melber of Politico, Alexander Howard of O’Reilly Media, Gwynne Kostin of the GSA, Mark Murray of NBC, and Micah Sifry of Personal Democracy Forum – seemed to agree. Social media is a powerful tool – but one that we’re still figuring out how to use.

Some critiques the panelists brought up:

  • we haven’t found great ways for people to engage online in a meaningful way (see Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on social media and social change)
  • we haven’t found a good way to collaborate online

So we have a ways to go – but that shouldn’t dampen the potential that lies vibrant in this new way to disseminate information.

Tell us about your experience! Do you find social media helpful? Personally? Professionally? What are your goals for these new networks? Let us know!