Social Media for Social Good

Last evening, I attend an event called Social Media for Social Good hosted by the Philadelphia chapter of the Social Media Club. I had learned of this event through a Facebook posting of one of its members. This event highlighted how social media tools were being used to promote charities in the areas; specifically, Blame Drew’s Cancer, Philadelphia Twestival, and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I am curious to see how other types of groups and individuals approach the tools and technology.

In turn, each speaker got up and gave a brief overview of what they are using to get the word out on their cause. Overall, there was a lot of talk of Twitter, of organization websites, and a smattering of Facebook groups. In a way, I was disappointed; I had hoped that there would be some sort of gem of a website or tool that I had not heard of but would really rock my world. But, in listening to the other people at the event speak, it also gave me a good barometer of the things people were using, how they were using it, and to what success. While I had not discovered something new and radical, it was a nice reassurance that all of my promotional efforts are hitting the same places that some of the professional consultants are using.

My biggest takeaway from the event was from the group itself; here is a room full of people looking to use social media and web tools to assist those in need. Could this sort of enterprise be duplicated in the library community? My instincts tell me that it could; the example I would look to is the Save Ohio Libraries phenomena. With a Facebook group, Twitter hashtag, Flickr account, and intuitive website with their compelling story, they mustered thousands of people to rally for their cause. I can’t help but believe that it had an impact on the budget process, even if the cuts passed were still devastating.

But in looking at other budget fights that are being broadcast on Twitter and Facebook, they don’t seem to have the same “oompf” to it. Pennsylvania has the second best response to news that I’ve seen, but there wasn’t much in the way of tweets or retweets beyond the initial story. Searches of Facebook groups for states in the news with library cuts reveals a smattering with small numbers. When I go to the corresponding state’s library association website, there is a simple notice and a plea for action.

Photo by Andrea Nay/Flickr In taking a step back and looking at the different events, I’m not sure why one is succeeding like crazy and the others are limping along. Perhaps Ohio had the biggest “sticker shock” of the state budgets; you really can’t beat having someone slash a budget in half to induce outrage and the desire to take action. Maybe Ohio had a much more hardcore series of library professionals on Twitter who were diligent about tweeting and retweeting budget information, calls for actions, and rally recaps all under the same hashtag. A group with a vested interest in the results who could tell the story of the Ohio budget battle. Likewise for the joining and sharing of the Facebook group which grew to over 50,000 people over a period of two weeks. There was a focused purpose to the whole endeavor: getting people involved with a definitive goal in mind.

In looking at the other library based causes, my inclination is to say that they suffer from a lack of visibility and organization at the grassroots level. There is a vast difference between asking someone to write to their representative versus asking someone to write to their representative, sign up an online petition, join this Facebook group, check out a website, and be sure to follow the news on Twitter. (To a degree, this has been a topic of conversation in one of my NJLA groups.) It has to be more than a plea for help; it has to draw people in, get them involved, and to move together as one.

But getting back to the group that filled that Temple University classroom and the question asked a few paragraphs back, what would it take to create a similar group of library advocates? I have a few thoughts but I want to map them out over the next couple of days. I think the time for networks that are broader than state lines is coming; I see it as inevitable as our connections between libraries grow greater.

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