Normally, when marketers talk about social media, we're talking about all the ways using social media can increase a company's bottom line. However, the power of social media goes far beyond making money through better advertising. When used properly, social media has changed the world. Here are six ways where social media has shaped the events that shape our world in just the past few years.
For anyone who lived under a rock in 2014, the ALS Challenge was a viral campaign by the The ALS Association, which fights Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. People would either donate $100 to the charity or dump a bucket of ice water on themselves. They would then nominate others to do the same in their video. This led to an explosion of videos and donations for the organization. Even if more people were concerned with watching funny videos and dumping water on their friends than they were about ALS research, the campaign did generate a large amount of awareness and funding. Since July 29, 2014, The ALS Association received more than $115 million in donations!
Natural Disaster Responses
The speed of social media has changed the way we learn about and respond to natural disasters. After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, nonprofits used social media to mobilize rescue efforts and to support the community. This also saw the deployment of one of the most successful text-to-donate campaigns seen at the time. Similarly, when earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan on Mar. 11, 2011, millions around the globe to used social media to search for family and friends, as well as get updates on a situation that was very frightening at the time, given the damage to the nuclear reactor. Similarly, in a recent New York area earthquake, residents were receiving tweets from the epicenter of the event before the tremors had reach them. The Red Cross in particular has become very good as using social media to organize volunteers and solicit donations for relief work.
Arab Spring and the uprisings in the Middle East
The "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, have proven that social media can be used to transform society and politics on a global scale. These uprisings used social media to organize protests, highlight injustices and government crackdowns, and sway public opinion at home and abroad. The effects spread to other nations, as even now, several nations in the Middle East find the status quo challenged by youths and social activists who use social media to rally others to their cause. In response, some countries have tried, often unsuccessfully, to limit access to social media sites, but these efforts just go to prove the staying power of the internet and social media as a tool for social change.
Organizing Social Unrest During 2011 England Riots
Back in 2011, there were three days of rioting in London following the death of a local teen at the hands of police. More than 3,000 crimes were committed during the period and at least five deaths were blamed on the riots. Authorities blamed the violence on text and instant messaging on mobile devices, citing them as tools for organizing criminal acts. British police broke into smart phones to thwart planned attacks on local establishments, and even considered blocking access to social networking sites, like Blackberry Messenger, altogether. In America similar events involving the deaths of unarmed teens at the hand of police or civilians have led to protest movements that spread virally due to social media.
Affecting Elections in the US and Around the World
Social media has significantly changed people talk about politics and organize for political causes. President Obama's election in 2008 and 2012 widely used social media to organize supporters and get-out-the-vote campaigns. This is in no way simply limited to the U.S.politics. In countries like Iran and Egypt, where political choice and speech are limited, organizers were able to use their influence to create exciting election results for their people. The events in Ukraine this year shows that in an age of social media, it's easier for people to organize against governments that don't listen to the will of the people.
The Rise of User-Generated News
For generations, if a person wasn't at an event live, the only way they would hear about it would be from the news media. This worked well enough when you consider how things were before, but the side effect was that a few gatekeepers controlled what images people saw, what news stories were covered, and from what angle. Now that social media sites let people from all over the world share their story through videos and images, it has changed the way people get their news and think about news in general. It has become a big issue for governments or organizations that want to hide the truth behind the veil of official secrets. Exposes from behind closed doors and aired on channels like YouTube have forced changes in ways that traditional media couldn't because they lacked access. The situation has changed so much that back in 2013, the Chicago Tribune laid off their full-time photographers, choosing to rely solely on freelancers and shots submitted by the public via social media.
By making communication and connecting to others easier and faster than before, social media has often been an engine for change in the world. These six examples alone show why all business owners, social activist, politicians, and more need to pay attention to the best practices for social media marketing. For more ways to see how social media can help organizations, read this article on why email marketing and social media are the best marketing tactics on the internet.