Using Social Media for Good by Meghan Yuri Young

22 May, 2019

Social media and, to be completely honest, the World Wide Web is still very much the wild wild west. Anyone can have a platform that elevates their voice and message, whether that’s for their own personal use, brand awareness or social change. And just like any vehicle, these platforms -- websites, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and beyond -- can be driven by both positive and negative purposes.

To get into the nitty gritty of what distinguishes a positive purpose from a negative one is a discussion for another day since those judgements are extremely subjective. Today is all about amplifying your own message. Now more than ever, people are raising their voices to bring awareness to numerous injustices around the world. Technology grants everyone a platform to share their views and even mobilize communities to make change -- both big and small.

For those looking to increase the impact of their social mission, it all comes down to storytelling. As Tyrion from Game of Thrones says in the series finale, “There’s nothing more powerful than a good story.” #Sorrynotsorry for including a GoT reference -- especially since this sentence will also serve as an example of digital wildfire shortly. Since most people have to start somewhere when it comes to any new project, I will start with three major, yet highly effective, basics in the attempt to conquer the digital kingdom for the social good, starting with sharing your story.

Share Your Story

We often take up arms for a cause that is near and dear to our hearts. Whether it’s something that affects us directly or someone we care about or it’s something that aligns with our instinctual values, there’s almost always a personal connection to the missions we set for ourselves. So tell that story.

Connection is something real we can all use when stirring up the masses to rally to our cause. It employs empathetic responses that make other people feel what you are feeling, which makes it more likely they will join in and help. There are a number of ways you can share your story, but there are three specific ones many use for their particular effectiveness.

1. Instagram

Instagram, which we will get into more later, is where a lot of the momentum is found when it comes to championing a cause and having it strike cords around the world. The content is easily digestible and shareable. It is also fairly easy to create for those looking to connect with others. But it’s important to know that when it comes to making a big impact, strategies can be used. These include great visuals (beautiful photos and emotive artwork, for instance), powerful captions (which is often the story itself) and the appropriate hashtags to get the right eyeballs on it. You can even tag the image with accounts that could help amplify your message -- so long as those accounts are aligned with your cause as well.

2. Blogs

Whether you start your own blog or write for a website that targets your specific audience, writing a longer article can really bring home the idea and message you’re trying to share with the world. There are ways to make them easy to read as well, which is important since people really do have shorter attention spans these days. From “How To” articles to listicles (i.e. 5 Ways Self Care Can Lead to Healthy Relationships), there are no shortage when it comes to writing something more informative but just as “entertaining” as an Instagram caption. That’s not to say that a well-written story or opinion piece is not needed. Again, this is when you decide what kind of strategy you want to take since creating consistent content to keep the mission alive is most important.

3. Facebook

I love Facebook because it’s a place where people are really sharing social missions and causes. Whether it’s reposting articles or writing opinion captions themselves, it’s a foil to both blog posts and Instagram that can really amplify a person’s message.

Help Others Share Their Stories

Recall just moments ago when I used the hashtag #sorrynotsorry? I’m sure you can think of a few others that have crept into your life thanks to the phenomenon known as Instagram. Now hashtags have become a cultural norm that is used as much in in-person conversations as they are online. Yet there is a reason for this. Hashtags create a purpose to certain stories. For some, it creates an excuse to share.

Think about the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and even #bodypositivity, movements. Single out a cause, create a powerful story and then attach a meaningful hashtag to it seems like a formula many people are embracing these days to create social justice waves around their communities. Now, it’s not easy to make a global impact. Yet that’s not to say it’s not worth a try. At the end of the day, creating something like a hashtag will help others share their stories. And if it’s used by only one other person, that’s a huge accomplishment.

Create Shareable Content

There are offline strategies that can have huge online impact. Just think about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People recorded themselves doing the challenge to raise awareness. It was so effective, I believe it’s still the benchmark other similar guerrilla tactics are measured against. Yet this challenge isn’t the only way you can help create shareable content.

The #nomakeupselfie is a simple online/offline challenge many continue to share. I have also created a small local initiative called The Sad Collective that, in its first year, spread positive stencils on the sidewalks of Toronto that encouraged people to take a photo of and share their mental health stories on Instagram. Four years later and people are still tagging us.

Although there are many ways to amplify messages and movements using social media and other digital tools, storytelling is definitely one of the most powerful ways to do so. It’s important to note that there are many ways to tell stories. These are simply three strategies you can use to help spread yours while encouraging others to do the same.