Taking Stock - Can Social Media Do What It Claims?

July 5th was the five year anniversary of my blog. I started thinking about the bigger issues, and wrote this post on July 8th - and waited until I could get more information (see sidenote on bottom).

Ten-plus years ago, I started my career in public relations. One of the first campaigns I worked on was the Cure Breast Cancer stamp - working with a friend that was on the campaign, to get it launched and to get people to buy it.

That's a nice high for PR: doing some good work that changes people's lives.

I look at what I have done in social media, and it is not the same. And, while people are glomming onto social media, there seems to be very little being done in the circular nature of the social media consultants.

You don't hear/read about campaigns that are helping change the world. You don't hear/read about campaigns that are being done with the large agencies or consultants that are trying to help make the world a better place.

You read social media people talking about social media ... and that seems to be it. It's the self-fulfilling prophecy of Valleywag's 250. And, I have written about this before, and nothing much changes.

There are groups of social media people that fall outside this realm. There are networks that are more community than others.

I have spoken at and asked for help and advice from various social media fundraisers, such as TechSoup and NetSquared, and spoke to a few of these people at Blogworld Expo.

So, this is my challenge to the social media consultants and the power of social media. Prove to me that it works.

Here is one situation - help raise funds for Lisa Gift-Kelly at Clusterfook.

It's a deserving person, who has cancer and is trying to make sure that things stay afloat and is able to afford treatment, as well as make sure her family will be okay and not fall under the weight of health care costs.

Here's my question and request: show that social media can change the world. Right now, it's just talk.

Robert Scoble - rally your readers and community to give just $5 to one or the other. Heavy is the crown for someone in your position, but times like this call for a rallying of troops. And, it fits into your recent post that tech blogging has failed ... maybe because it's too insular?

Steve Rubel - you often talk about community, but then use the card that you did not ask for a leadership position. You started a skin cancer blog, but inexplicably let it die. Here's an opportunity to do something for someone with cancer, and to show leadership in social media and PR.

Social Media Club
- you now have 44 board members of social media experts and consultants. Have them get the word out, have them work with the larger community of readership and help make the world a better place one person at a time.

Chris Brogan
- you are one of the nicer people I know, and always do the good thing. Get your massive network to help out. It's not about blog tips, but it's about affecting change.

Jason Calacanis - while you might have retired your blog, you still have your Calacanis army on Twitter and your new newsletter. Rally your readers and followers. Plus, well, you are a mensch.

Now, there are tons of other people that I can think of to add to this list, but just using these four (plus SMC) as an example, and because of their position in social media. There are a ton of other people that write about social media non-stop, who have written books (Rohit Bhargava, Joel Postman, Geoff Livingston, Shel Israel, Brian Solis, Chris Heuer, amongst others) and would be good candidates to help spread the word and raise money.

Is that all that social media is? Is it to just sell stuff? Is it just a self-fulfilling circle that links to itself over and over? Or is there a higher value to social media, where we can make people's life better and really rally people to help others.

And, while there are organizations, groups and people that are doing good online, the vast majority of social media / blog noise comes from the consultants. Prove me right - that social media can do more than just be about social media talking about itself, but help change people's lives and change one part of the world. Social media consultants have a vested interest to do this, to show the world an example of social media doing good.

Go donate on the side through the SmartyPig Widget, or send people to Lisa's donation page.

When I wrote the post, my hope was to see if social media can do for Lisa what it claims the buzz can do for people.

As a sidenote: On a recent post, Lisa questioned if I was still helping her out, among other things. I have and had been researching alternative funding beyond Paypal, and doing traditional offline PR with face-to-face conversations with a myriad of people. As for the outreach that I am doing in my off-hours, in public relations you need to be ready and prepared for all and every question. I should have kept her up-to-date, and am now emailing her weekly. I apologize that I was not as proactive as she would have liked in the ten days between our correspondence and posts (which she has since taken down).

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26 comments

  1. Heartfelt and thought-provoking post, Jeremy. Didn't think you had it in you :-) Seriously, thanks. You're a mench yourself...

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  2. Glad you opened the comments McDreamy. ;)

    I posted a donation challenge on my blog A Girl's Gotta Spa.

    Also, like I tweeted on Twitter to you, at least from my end, I use social media for all it's worth and recently raised $2000 for a local 7 year old whose insurance wouldn't pay for her to get off her feeding tube via a feeding clinic at CHOP.

    I know there are more bloggers out there that utilize their blogs and social networking sites to extend their reach to help others--it's just that the media or others don't really pay attention to that great part of SM.

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  3. Great challenge Jeremy. I'm glad, per your footnote, that you and Lisa cleared up the confusion. I hope your challenge is taken up and proved right.

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  4. I agree with several of your points, but I do think progress is happening. As people kick the tires on social media tools and understand how broad-reaching and influential this can be, I'm seeing some light bulbs go off here and there.

    I was just thinking about this last night. I wish I could reference specific examples, but I feel like there is a rumbling out there of people who are calling for the social media community to become more and deliver more.

    I'm going to read more about Lisa's story now. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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  5. inspiring...well done jp

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  6. OK, I'll bite. I'm going to work on this. I'm going to make something happen.

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  7. hi there, i'm glad that peter shankman suggested you as someone to follow on twitter. i'm still a newbie, but wanted to point out that you were surprised at how many women had responded to your post. on the other, none of the top people in the social media field that you mentioned were women. is social media yet another field were there are 'few' women leaders? or, is it yet another self-fulfilling prophecy, in that guys connect/read/talk with guys, and hence, promote each other?

    i am particularly interested, as currently, i'm the chapter leader of new york women social entrepreneurs (www.ywse.org/nywse).

    thanks.

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  8. nice callout!

    blogfriend of Lisa

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  9. Found you through NYC Watchdog's Site this morning...

    Perhaps you already know about the site The Point (which I found through Bzz Agent), but thought it was worth mentioning for anyone who might not know about it. It's a site attempting to use word-of-mouth marketing to create change.

    The problem I see with the site goes to the heart of your post. Will that change be for a greater good or will it end up in the exploitation category?

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  10. Jeremy, This is ALREADY happening, and at Shaping Youth (using the power of media for positive change) we've been covering these uplifting stories constantly! Check out my articles on same here:
    "Let's show how positive social media works" http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1070 we all rallied for Beth Kanter's America's Giving Challenge to earn her the $50,000 prize to help her orphanage in Cambodia, I also highlighter the earning of $1000 in 24 hrs. using Twitter here: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=729

    And as a co-author of The Age of Conversation (probono global book) we raised $11,000 in 60 days for Variety, the Children's Charity using social media expertise. (we're about to do it again later this month with a second edition for 2008, with 237 global marcom authors, so stay tuned!) Here's my article about it:
    http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=626
    (now I just have to use this knowledge for my own nonprofit!)

    Be heartened, this is doable! We just need more of us on this end of the communications wire! I'm Bay Area based too, so we should 'do lunch!' Keep up the good fight! :-) --Amy

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  11. One of the more interesting networks I've seen of recent have been patient networks where you can join support groups with people that have the same inflictions and diseases as yourself. That's a pretty amazing use of social media if you ask me!

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  12. Great challenge Jeremy. And i think so.

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  13. I've been thinking more about the challenges this industry has, some of your points here inspired me Jeremy to write this

    http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/08/07/the-many-challenges-of-the-social-media-industry/

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  14. I agree that social media in general can (and should) be used more widely to tackle issues that really matter.

    But it is not safe to assume that the people on this list aren't doing good in their own way, and it's inappropriate to point fingers at them without knowing the facts.

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  15. @gary.goldhammer - thank you for the comment, and I never think of myself as a mensch. Tzedakah, ya know?

    @shannon nelson - thanks for helping out on your blog, and thank you for spreading the news and helping out.

    @sherry - I hope that it continues to get pickup, as it has already.

    @ann marie - I agree that progress is happening, and have been at meetings and events where it happens. But that's one community - and there are many splits in community in social media. The ones I refer to are the pure social media specialists for social media sake.

    @t. hall - thanks.

    @pikpr - thanks for helping me out, and helping push this forward.

    @natalia - thanks for adding me on Twitter. I'm behind there, so I'll get back to adding people soon.

    I didn't name women, because I had spoken to them when I was at the BlogHer conference and they told me to email them and they'd pick up the fight. But, no, there are leading social media female bloggers as well as males, and I try to have my reading and linking a little bit more diverse than most.

    But, at the end of the day, men make more noise and seem to get more buzz than women. Is that right? No, not at all. And, guys seem to have a bigger fascination with tools than women, so that comes into the equation as well.

    But, if you want names to speak at the chapter in NY, email me.

    @Lala - thanks.

    @Tasses - Yes, I know about the site. For Lisa, though, the binary nature of that service does not work (all or nothing). Every donation helps, even if she doesn't reach her goal.

    @shaping youth - oh, I have no doubt it's happening. I know of so many groups that are doing good out there, that are not getting the mainstream blog/social media recognition that they deserve - and that's not even counting the political stuff happening online.

    My point is that the people that are doing it are part of that community - that stuff has not crossed over. I have nothing but respect for Beth Kanter, and the work that she has done. Same with Britt Bravo, Net Squared, etc and etc.

    @douglas karr - I agree. Some of the healthcare social media networks are amazing.

    @non - thanks, and I hope so. It's showing it can in some instances, that's for sure.

    @jeremiah test - love the post, and need to go comment on it. There are challenges, and not sure if we're moving forward or backward some days.

    @qui - it's not like this is a closed blog: they can post comments. And I'm not talking safe or unsafe or assumptions or non-assumptions: I asked them to help out in this instance.

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  16. Can you clarify your argument? You seem to make the case that social media is incapable doing anything other promoting itself and selling products, yet judging by your responses to many of the comments, you readily agree that social media is already doing great work to help promote social causes. If you're simply calling on more people to use social tactics for good, then I would agree that more should be done. However, if this an attempt to prove that social media is an insufficient tactic for social change, then this is a flawed test right from the start. Randomly calling out folks to champion your cause is a poor way to build a positive groundswell.

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  17. Well I think social media at least tries to help the suffering humanity and its for us to cooperate them in their great cause.


    xango

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  18. Great post. I just stumbled upon your blog recently, so unfortunately, I don't get the full context of where it is coming from. But I appreciated it nonetheless.

    While social media certainly has a high ceiling, I wouldn't say that it has underachieved so far. I look back at all my personal relationships. There is always "honeymoon"/have fun period. That stage is important to build trust and understand the ground rules of the relationship.

    That being said, I think you are right in saying that it is time for social media to break out of the honeymoon period and start focusing its efforts less on "lets get more followers" and more on "alright, now what can we do with those followers?"

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  19. I guess I don't see the lack of a social conscience that you do. Springing immediately to the top of my head are the Frozen Pea Fund and the San Antonio blood drive tweetup. I've seen dozens of such efforts in the social media space.

    On FIR, Neville and I promoted a cancer-related cause brought to our attention by Mark Story, a Georgetown PR professor.

    Further, a lot of people are engaged behind the scenes. I'm working pro bono on a cancer-related effort with three high-profile social media figures, none of whom are touting our involvement on our blogs or anywhere else -- we're just doing it. I presume a lot of other people are like this, too: More than willing to share our expertise and our time but not seeking to get attaboys in exchange for the effort.

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  20. Jeremy, I read your blog post and the one at Livingston, and I don't know you personally. But, a couple things:

    1. I like your strategy here in terms of rallying the troops. However, I can see how the tone can be taken as accusatory by some, so maybe a more: Let's rally the troops message would have been more effective. (However, the controversy around ur post, has clearly helped make it get attention...that may have been your strategy. ;)

    2. Not sure where you stand on the men vs. women argument, and I (a woman) would take out the word VERSUS. Must we still, the troops in our army include women, so I say the social media army should include women. I don't think I've met a social media consultant yet who would use gender as a metric for social media success.

    3. For all those interested, if you seek it, so you shall find. Many activists are online generating and inspiring good through social media. Beth Kanter, FLiP, YouthNoise, Razoo, Change Agents, Marc @ Osocio, Craig Lefebvre, etc. Perhaps there's a divide in 'beats'? I think your message, might have been to merge the armies: social media with social media activists.

    Thanks for generating great convo,

    Alex, aka SocialButterfly
    www.fly4change.com

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  21. HI Jeremy, I found your blog from a sunchonous search for another site that I had received a phishing email about and noticed your following the sit athttp://www.endpoverty2015.org/. so I said to myseld this is just what we've beem looking for when iur house was set to foreclose in a week. typical in that it was caused by medical bills, deaths in the family and banking/lending organization indifference and mistakes (they said were behind and did not receive $10,00 in payment, then mysteriously they ended up transfering an out of state check beac into our bank account). thanks to my family and my spouse initiative at work we're about out of the woods. we've gone through another setback when she was robbed, helped catch the thief and now is waiting for the police to return the stolen money unless we drop the charges againt the perpetrator, actually found out to be on the FBI 50 most wanted list. well having links from sponsoring websites would seem like something social networking sites could do to help as I haven't seen this particular info posted before. anyway, thanks for your support, while I will also help to make this a priority when working with my network. thanks

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  22. I know there are more bloggers out there that utilize their blogs and social networking sites to extend their reach to help other.I agree with several of your points, but I do think progress is happening.
    http://www.cyberdesignz.com/

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  23. One of the more interesting networks I've seen of recent have been patient networks where you can join support groups with people that have the same inflictions and diseases as yourself. That's a pretty amazing use of social media if you ask me!

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  24. I guess I don't see the lack of a social conscience that you do. Springing immediately to the top of my head are the Frozen Pea Fund and the San Antonio blood drive tweetup. I've seen dozens of such efforts in the social media space.

    On FIR, Neville and I promoted a cancer-related cause brought to our attention by Mark Story, a Georgetown PR professor.

    Further, a lot of people are engaged behind the scenes. I'm working pro bono on a cancer-related effort with three high-profile social media figures, none of whom are touting our involvement on our blogs or anywhere else -- we're just doing it. I presume a lot of other people are like this, too: More than willing to share our expertise and our time but not seeking to get attaboys in exchange for the effort.calit

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  25. For all those interested, if you seek it, so you shall find. Many activists are online generating and inspiring good through social media. Beth Kanter, FLiP, YouthNoise, Razoo, Change Agents, Marc @ Osocio, Craig Lefebvre, etc. Perhaps film there's a divide in 'beats'? I think your message, might have been to merge the armies: social media with social media activists.

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  26. One of the more interesting networks I've seen of recent have been patient networks where you can join support groups with people that have the same inflictions and diseases as yourself. That's a pretty amazing use of social media if you ask me!

    ReplyDelete